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ST CATHERINE 
DE RICCI 





ST. CATHERINE DK RICCI, 
From a death-mask preset ved by the nuns of Prato. 



\ r j.".-. ; 



ST CATHERINE 
I DE RICCI 

HER LIFE HER LETTERS 
HER COMMUNITY 



By 

F. M. CAPES 



Preceded by a 
TREATISE on the MYSTICAL LIFE 

by 
F. BERTRAND WILBERFORCE O.P. 

Preacher-Genera/ of the Order 



> 



BURNS (& GATES 

28 ORCHARD STREET 
LONDON W 



Nihil Obstat 

J. S. NORTHCOTE 

Censor Deputatus 

Imprimatur 

^ FRANCISCUS 

Archiepiscopus Westmonast. 



..: 



To 

The Right ^>. Lady Abbess Parser, O.S.B. 
and the Community 

of 

St Marys Abbey, East Bergholt, 

this BooJ^ 

is most Affectionately Dedicated by the 
Writer 



PREFACE 

ST CATHERINE DE RICCI, one of the three canonized Domi 
nican women of the "Third Order,"* holds a different 
position from that of either her great predecessor and 
namesake of Siena or the Saint of the New World who 
was a little girl when she died, Rose of Lima. These two 
were "Tertiaries" in the strict sense of the word, remain 
ing inmates of their respective parents houses to the end 
of their lives. 

St Catherine de Ricci, on the contrary, was not only a 
"conventual" tertiary, but she belonged to a community 
which, although of the Third Order, was enclosed behind 
a grille and led a strictly contemplative life. Its members 
had nothing to do with hospitals, orphanages, schools, or 
any kind of charitable institutions, doing no "active" work 
except what was absolutely needful for their own sup 
port: such as needlework or confectionery, etc., which they 
sold; and even these occupations were lessened as far as 
possible under Catherine s rule, to give more time for 
prayer. In fact, had it not been that their constitutions 
were of a less severe nature as to fast and abstinence, the 
sisters of her convent might almost as well have belonged 
to the Second Order as to the Third. Hence it is as a model 
rather of a contemplative nun, than of what we in England 
usually understand by a conventual tertiary, that this con 
temporary of St Philip Neri and St Mary Magdalen de 
Pazzi must be regarded. 

Again, wide as was her acquaintance with "seculars" of 
every kind, so that her life was by no means a hidden one 
like St Rose s, the nun of Prato was not a great historical 
character like St Catherine of Siena, whose wonderful voca 
tion was clearly inconsistent with a cloistered life. Cathe 
rine de Ricci had great fame in her own time and country, 

* There are many "Blessed." 



vi ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

but it was more for her extraordinary mystical life than for 
any of her personal actions that people were drawn to her, 
at least to begin with; though, when they came to know 
her, the beauty of her character and the good that she did 
to others with true Dominican activity of mind and heart 
warmly attached them to her. She was prioress of her con 
vent for a great part of her life, and as such was renowned 
for her wise and holy government. Thus, her position with 
regard to the public lies, as it were, between that of the 
other two saints. Her life, we may say, contains a triple 
interest : that of the pure mystic; that of the practical Re 
ligious superior in her own community; and that of the 
essentially loving and tender woman, spreading beneficent 
influence around as far as the circumstances of her calling 
allowed. 

The substance of this new life of the saint* is mainly 
taken from the Vie de Ste Catherine de 1 Ricci by Pere Hya- 
cinthe Bayonne, O.P. (Paris: Poussielgue, 1873), which the 
present superiors of the French province have most kindly 
allowed to be freely used. Many of its narrative portions 
have, however, been omitted or simplified, the French life 
being often either too long and wordy or rather too flowery 
in style for English taste. Also, whilst the accounts of St 
Catherine s celebrated lasting miraculous favours her ec 
stasy of the Passion, her receiving the sacred stigmata, and 
the like have been retained in full, some only of the stories 
given by Pere Bayonne of incidental miracles or visions 
have been chosen for insertion, and even these frequently 
told in shortened form. 

Considerable additions have also been made to the older 
work, consisting in several original letters of the saint which 
either do not appear at all in the French life, or are merely 
quoted there. 

These letters form, it need hardly be said, a particu 
larly valuable portion of the present work, by enabling 
the saint to speak to us herself from behind her grille 
of three centuries ago. It would perhaps be impossible 

* The narrative has been here and there supplemented or corrected by reference to 
Guasti s admirable introductory notes, etc., to the " Letters." 



PREFACE vii 

to characterize them more truly than a Dominican doctor 
in theology, Pere Berthier, has done in this pithy 
antithesis: 

"These simple and practical letters of the nobly-born 
Catherine de Ricci form a fitting pendant to the grand 
we might almost say the aristocratic style of Catherine of 
Siena, the dyer s daughter."* 

In one case, throughout this English version, not the 
substance only but the words of the French writer have 
been kept to: i.e., wherever an explanation or dissertation 
of theological nature, concerning the Religious life or any 
spiritual matter, is in question. As Pere Bayonne was a 
noted Dominican friar, which means a first-rate theologian 
as well as an authority on the spirit of his Order, it would 
be an impertinence to substitute any expressions for his 
own, or to omit anything of consequence that he had 
said, where such things were concerned. Moreover, his 
words on these subjects are often of considerable beauty 
and power in themselves, and greatly add to the interest of 
the biography. 

As to the original sources for St Catherine de Ricci s 
life, which are mainly Italian, and date from immediately 
after the saint s death, Pere Bayonne gives a full and care 
ful account of these at the beginning of his work, besides 
making frequent reference to them, with many quotations, 
throughout the text. This latter plan has been followed 
here; but the account of authorities, being too long for re 
production in full, is given merely as a "List" at the end 
of this book. 

Any reader who becomes sufficiently interested in 
Catherine to feel inclined to hunt up and examine the old 
Italian chroniclers for himself will probably be well re 
warded for his trouble, especially in the case of Serafino 
Razzi. If we may judge from the extracts given by Bayonne, 
and from some others in Mother Francis Raphael s "Spirit 

* See a letter of approval prefixed by the Oullins nuns to their French translation. 
St Catherine of Siena s academic style, it must be remembered, was supernatural, she 
having learnt to read and write miraculously. Catherine de Ricci had had the ordinary 
woman s education of a well born and bred, but not literary, family, and wrote merely 
as her natural intelligence dictated. 



viii ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

of the Dominican Order," that bygone writer has a grace 
and charm in story-telling, combined with faith and devo 
tion, quite peculiar to himself. 

Three points connected with this English Life i.e., the 
letters, the portrait, and the mixed name-system here adopted 
need some prefatory explanation: 

i. Two full editions of St Catherine de Ricci s letters 
were brought out in the latter half of the nineteenth century 
(besides a small earlier one consisting only of fifty letters, 
chiefly to her family, edited with no notes or explanatory 
matter). One of these two, edited by Alessandro Gherardi, 
at Florence, is as late as 1890, and contains four hundred 
letters, some of them being taken from an earlier edition, 
which is the most important of all. This is the collection 
edited and annotated by Cesare Guasti, and published after 
his death, at Prato, by Ranieri Guasti, in 1 86 1 . This edition 
contains about three hundred and fifty letters, with some 
most useful and interesting prefatory matter (by way of 
notes), which throws much light on various points con 
nected with the saint, her family, and her friends and 
correspondents; as also on the connection of herself and her 
community with Savonarola. 

It is on this Italian edition that the latest and largest 
volume of the saint s letters is based: i.e., the full French 
edition brought out by the Dominican nuns at Oullins 
(now banished to Bissighem-les-Courtrai, in Belgium) in 
1900.* This volume contains some letters from Gherardi 
besides those of Guasti, bringing them altogether up to 
four hundred and sixty-two in number ; but as regards 
"notes," etc., it is an actual translation of Guasti s work. 
From this very valuable book leave to use which was 
most kindly given by the nuns the present writer has 
chosen the letters to be published in English; but with 
the exception of a few that have been done from the French 
all those here given have been translated straight from 
the Italian, so as to secure the reproduction of the saint s 
own words as nearly as possible. This part of the work was 

* The French volume is actually not dated by publishers (Douniol, Paris) or editors. 
The date is therefore quoted from memory. 



PREFACE ix 

undertaken by two friends of the writer s, one of whom 
has passed away since she gave her kind help: namely, by 
the late Miss Cecilia Simeon (who translated a few family 
letters, and several of those to Filippo Salviati) ; and by 
Miss E. Kislingbury, who is the translator of the main 
portion. The latter, "in addition to the apology owing to 
her readers for her own shortcomings in style," desires, in 
partial justification, to quote the following lines from the 
preface of Guasti, with whose opinion she fully concurs 
from her own experience in translating the letters, which 
have sometimes been very difficult to put into grammatical 
English: 

Catherine [remarks her Italian editor], as I have said, was not a literary 
woman, neither did she know anything of the artificialities of style. But 
the words came from her heart with a spontaneity which is nearer to 
nature; and when her discourse changes from the singular to the plural, 
and back again to the singular; when the verb does not correspond with 
the nominative, or the noun which she has in mind is not even expressed; 
if the reason for this is not in the grammar-books, it is to be found in her 
own heart, which felt the efficacy of certain constructions, irregular perhaps, 
in that they are foreign to precedent, but well within the spirit of the lan 
guage and approved by the authority of the people, the highest law-giver.* 

To make choice, from so many, of a few special letters 
for insertion here has of course been a difficult task. The 
writer has gone on the plan of choosing those which seemed 
best to illustrate, not merely the saint s own character, but 
that of her community, and the nature of her general sur 
roundings: thus enabling the portion here presented of her 
familiar correspondence to give as vivid a picture as possible 
of contemporary " manners," Religious and secular, of 
everyday life. Whether the right letters for this purpose 
have been picked out or not must, however, of course be 
a matter on which opinion may differ, should any readers 
of this volume already know the whole collection, or be 
disposed to turn to it after making acquaintance with these 
specimens. 

It is greatly to be regretted as in the case of so many 
letters published posthumously that we have not the other 

* Guasti s Letters Spiritual!, etc., p. 24. 



x ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

side of the correspondence preserved, in some instances, to 
complete the picture. 

2. The portrait of St Catherine here given is taken, 
with permission, from the French volume of letters. This 
portrait as might be conjectured by its general expression 

is from a mould taken after death, which was preserved 

at Prato. M. Guasti, in the year 1860, had an engraving 
done after this mould, considered to have been very suc 
cessful; and the said engraving was lent by his daughter to 
the French nuns, who had it photographed and repro 
duced for their translation of the letters. 

There are various portraits of St Catherine de Ricci 
about some engravings which more or less resemble the 
one here published, and some "pious" coloured pictures 
of the beautified sickly-sentimental order, as absolutely 
unlike it as possible. That these last are also utterly unlike 
the original is clear from a comparison of the older engra 
vings with this one taken from the "mask," which appears 
to be the only really authentic portrait preserved. Some of 
the older drawings represent St Catherine as uglier than 
this making the features coarser and the chin more 
receding but none of them attempt, like the modern 
productions, to make her "pretty." M. Guasti s engraving 
(it is thought by some who have looked at it critically, 
with a view to the question of prefixing it to the English 
Life), if repellent at first sight, has the merit of repaying 
a more careful study by the discovery of much sweetness, 
dignity, and, above all, great saintliness of expression in 
the worn and even plain features. It must be remembered 
that the mould from which it is taken was not only that 
of a dead woman, but of one sixty-eight years old and 
exhausted with bodily penance and spiritual effort. 

3. The name-system followed in this English life of 
St Catherine may be justly charged with inconsistency; 
but it is an inconsistency adopted of set purpose, with a 
method in it, and the method is this: 

Where proper names whether of people or places 
have become so familiar to us in their English form that to 
give them in their native Italian would appear to ordinary 



PREFACE xi 

readers either strange or pedantic, they have been Anglicized 
here. Where this is not the case the Italian form has been 
preserved, as being not only more suitable to the book, but in 
almost every case far superior in beauty. For example, the 
name of the saint herself has been given as " Catherine," 
English people being so used to all the saints of that name 
under this form, that " Caterina " would seem most un 
familiar. Again, in the case of St Philip Neri, the Oratorians 
in this country have made the English spelling so universal 
that to spell it "Filippo" would seem absolutely pedantic; 
whilst Dominicans are also familiar with St Vincent Ferrer. 
On the other hand, the name of the Prato convent has no 
place among us in English, and may therefore have as 
also may the saint s relations its own musical name of 
San Vincenzio left to it; and for the same reason Cathe 
rine s friend and "spiritual son," Salviati, may keep his 
Christian name in its original form as "Filippo" : and so 
on in other instances. 

This explanation will show readers that what may seem 
an odd system of mixed nomenclature does not arise from 
carelessness; and they will probably be grateful for as little 
Anglicising as possible when they come across some of the 
double names that appear pretty often. Pierfrancesco, for 
instance, and Giovanbatista, are soft andgraceful appellations 
in their native contracted form; but who could endure to 
see "Peter Francis" or "John Baptist" ? 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 

PAGE 

Preface v 

On the Mystical Life, by Father BERTRAND WILBERFORCE, O.P. xvii 

CHAPTER I 

St Catherine s Family Birth (1522) and Early Years ... i 

CHAPTER II 

Alessandrina s Vocation Her stay at Monticelli Return to her 

Fathers House Search for a suitable Convent 7 

CHAPTER III 

Alessandrina at the Villa San Paolo She hears about the Con 
vent of San Vincenzio from its Begging Sisters Gets her 
Father s consent to visit it Her compulsory Return to Flo 
rence She falls ill Her Miraculous Cure Final entry into 
San Vincenzio 10, 

CHAPTER IV 

Alessandrina receives the Habit (1535) and with it the name of 
Catherine Her Novitiate and its Trials Her Profession 
(1536) 28 

CHAPTER V 

History of San Vincenzio at Prato and its Foundresses Fresh 
Trials, Illness and Miraculous Recovery of Catherine Restor 
ation to favour with the Community Second Illness and 
Second Cure Doubts as to her Extraordinary States finally 
dispelled Further Trials and Supernatural Helps Her 
Victories over the Devil 38 

CHAPTER VI 

Some Joys accompanying Catherine s Trials Our Lord changes 

her Heart Beginning of her Great Ecstasy of the Passion . 57 

CHAPTER VII 

The Ecstasy of the Passion Examined by both Provincial and Gene 
ral of the Order Their favourable Verdict Other Doubts 
set at rest The "Canticle of the Passion" revealed to 
Catherine . 68 



xiv ST CATHERINE DE RICC1 

PAGE 

CHAPTER VIII 

Mystic Espousals of the Saint with Jesus Christ Our Lord gives 
her the Ring Her Sacred Stigmata Her Crown of Thorns 
Favours bestowed on her through a Miraculous Crucifix . 79 

CHAPTER IX 

Catherine s Love for her Family Her anxiety about their Con 
cerns Beginning of her Correspondence with them (1542) . 88 

CHAPTER X 

Catherine s Demeanour during her Great Ecstasy How the Fame 
of it spreads beyond the Convent The Saint s personal 
Virtues, Penances and Humility in the midst of her fame 
The Pope s Commissioners pronounce in her favour . . . 109 

CHAPTER XI 

Catherine s Mission to the Sixteenth Century The great person 
ages of Italy throng to Prato The Saint made Sub-Prioress 
(i 547) Death of M. Raffaella de Fagnza Catherine s influ 
ence on Souls Her Miraculous Power of converting Sinners 
and expiatory Offerings for them Her Devotion to the Souls 
in Purgatory 125 

CHAPTER XII 

Work as Sub-Prioress within the Community She is named 
Prioress (1552) Death of her Uncle, Fra Timoteo St 
Catherine s Spiritual Teaching and Conferences in Chapter 
She is delivered, at her own prayer, from outward manifesta 
tions of her Great Ecstasy (1554) H 1 

CHAPTER XIII 

Mother Catherine s internal Government of her Community 

Her character as Prioress Her standard of Religious Life . 1 60 

CHAPTER XIV 

Filippo Salviati and his services to San Vincenzio The Saint s in 
fluence on and correspondence with him 177 

CHAPTER XV 

St Catherine and her Brothers Correspondence with Ridolfo and 
Vincenzio Visit of the Bavarian Prince to Prato Prophecy 
of St Charles Borromeo s miraculous escape . . . . . . 195 



CONTENTS xv 

CHAPTER XVI 

Some correspondence of St Catherine with Superiors of her Order 

The Affair of Convent Enclosure ... 2 ii 

CHAPTER XVII 

The Saint s Spiritual Sons" : Religious and Laymen Her Letters 

to some of them 22 , 

CHAPTER XVIII 

Later years of St Catherine s Life Her relations with St Mary 
Magdalen de Pazzi With St Philip Neri Her friendly 
intercourse with Seculars Her spirit of Poverty in Sickness 
Her increasing Humility and desire of self-affacement shown 
by a final act g 

CHAPTER XIX 

The Saint s Interior Life during her latter years Her last Illness 
-Death (1590) And Funeral Posthumous Apparitions 
and Miracles Opening of the Cause of her Beatification- 
Celebrated Incident in the Process She is Beatified (1732) 
-Her Relics translated She is Canonized (1746) . . . 258 

APPENDIX 

List of Original Sources for St Catherine de Ricci s Life ... 275 

Index . 

277 



ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE 

BY FATHER BERTRAND WILBERFORCE, O.P. 

THE writer of this Life of St Catherine de Ricci has asked 
me to help readers by pointing out what is meant by "the 
Mystical Life." This may assist those who have not read 
any work on mystical theology to understand better the 
dealings of almighty God with souls who, like St Catherine, 
are led by His special grace into close union with His 
divine Majesty. 

The first fact evident about St Catherine is that a great 
part of the interest and importance of her life belongs to 
its hidden and mystical aspect. Externally, her biographer 
has but few striking events to record of her, having not very 
much more to tell than might be told of many Christian 
maidens who have led an innocent early life in their fathers 
homes, and then left them for the cloister, where, after 
finishing their course, they have died a holy death. 

^ This almost sums up the outward life of St Catherine 
de Ricci. There were certain exceptions to such an ordinary 
career in her case, as will be seen; but, speaking generally, 
she did no visible work that the world would admire. Un 
like St Catherine of Siena, to whose mystical life hers bore 
much resemblance, she had no public calling which would 
have broughther before men. She spent her life in a secluded 
convent, and for the most part in a constant round of duties 
that the world would despise as trivial, and that many would 
be inclined to condemn as useless. 

The wonders of her life were hidden with Christ in God. 
They were mystical in the first and widest sense of that word, 
namely, being hidden, secret, invisible to the eye of man. 
A mystery is a hidden thing, invisible not only to the bodily 
eye but also to the mental and rational sight, being above 
and beyond the comprehension of man. God Himself is the 
deepest of all mysteries, and His divine Life, that never 



xviii ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

began, can never change and will never end, is the most 
mysterious, the most mystical of all possible lives. 

What is most wonderful in the life of St Catherine is 
thus secret and invisible. The intense interest of the history 
of souls like hers consists in studying, as far as possible, the 
progress of their inner life and the process by which al 
mighty God drew them into closest intimacy and most 
exalted union with Himself. 

If we desire a short yet comprehensive description of 
the mystical life, we cannot have a better than that given by 
St Paul in his Epistle to the Colossians.* 

The Christian mystic is one who being "risen with 
Christ, seeks the things that are above, where Christ is 
sitting at the right hand of God; one who minds the things 
that are above, not the things that are upon the earth." 

St Catherine was eminent among these, and of her it 
could be truly said at any time of her mortal life here be 
low: "You are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in 
God." And we can add with infallible certainty of her : 
"When Christ, who is our life shall appear, then shall you 
also appear with Him in glory." f 

A mystical life therefore, though a very real life, is 
hidden; it is concealed by the bright cloud that makes God 
invisible. It is a life more true, more beneficial, more noble 
and exalted than any merely natural life, but it is secret, 
invisible and spiritual. 

St Thomas gives secret and hidden as the first meaning 
of" mystical," and in treating of the word secret^ in his com 
mentary on the words of Isaias,J " My secret to me, my 
secret to me," the holy doctor tells us why the wonders of 
God are, for the most part, secret and veiled from the eyes 
of men. 

i . They are hidden from many on account of their very 
greatness, as our Lord said of the grace of perpetual chastity, 
" All men take not " (cannot understand) " this word, but 
they to whom it is given. " In another place also He said, 
"I have spoken to you earthly things, and you believe 

* Col. iii, 4. f CoLiv, 1-5. J xxiv, 16, Vulgate. Matt, xix, n. 



ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE xix 

not; how will you believe if I shall speak to you heavenly 
things?"* 

2. A second reason for the secret nature of God s divine 
operations is on account of their supreme dignity, as our 
Lord explains to His apostles, saying: " To you it is given 
to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to 
them it is not given. "f 

3. Many things are hidden from certain souls because 
they are unfit to receive them and too carnal-minded to 
understand them. " Give not that which is holy to dogs, 
and cast not your pearls before swine, lest perhaps they may 
trample them under their feet, and turning upon you they 
may tear you." J 

From this principle came the "discipline of the secret" 
in primitive ages, when such sacred doctrine as the Real 
Presence was kept carefully from the knowledge of those 
outside the Church. 

It is a maxim of the spiritual life that the more we love, 
the more we know. In illustration of this, a story told of 
Gregory Lopez, a very simple man, but a high contempla 
tive, comes to the mind. Knowing that Philip II, King of 
Spain, when the candle was put into his hand at death, had 
exclaimed, " Now for the great secret," Gregory said as he 
himself held the death candle, " No longer any secret for 
me," and smiled with joy as he went to his Lord. 

The life of our Lady and the wonders of God in her 
soul were all mystical, in the sense of being secret, hidden 
from the eyes of men. Her outward and visible life was 
that of a village maiden, afterwards married to a working- 
man, the village carpenter, and with great simplicity and 
humility doing the various duties of her state of life. That 
she, alone among the daughters of Eve, was conceived im 
maculate ; that she was chosen to be the Mother of God 
Incarnate; that she was sinless and destined to be the spiri 
tual Queen of Heaven, were all favours of God utterly 
hidden, known only by revelation. 

Every one has two lives; the outward one made up of 
the daily actions of the visible life, and the inner life of the 

* John iii, 12. f Matt, xiii, n. JMatt. v ii, 6. 



xx ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

soul, consisting for the most part of desires, thoughts and 
affections. When the soul is living in God s grace and is 
moved by the Holy Spirit, this inward life is supernatural, 
and, in a wide sense, we may call it a mystical life. But the 
proper signification of "mystical" is attained when the inner 
life of the soul is raised above the common, and consists in 
an extraordinary degree of union with God in both know 
ledge and love. 

What we mean then by saying that St Catherine was a 
" mystic," is that she led a life, by God s grace, of most exalted 
and perfect contemplation of God and of fruitful, as well as 
most sweet, love of Him, intimately present and united to 
her soul. 

No one, manifestly, could attain to this state by his own 
exertions. It must be a special and singular gift of God. No 
human effort could possibly attain to the lowest state of true 
contemplation, in the sense in which that word is used in 
mystical theology, without the gift of God ; for contempla 
tion means the supernatural visit of God Himself to the 
soul, filling the intellect with wonderful knowledge of Him 
self and uniting the will to Himself in the close embrace of 
spiritual love. In this state God illuminates the soul by be 
stowing on it a simple intuition* of Himself with a most 
ardent movement of love. This visit is sometimes of very 
short duration, but however brief it repays all the trials and 
pains, whether of soul or body, that have preceded it. 

It will be useful here to lay down a few elementary 
principles of mystical theology, drawn from St Thomas and 
other holy and approved authors. 

i . In the first place, what is meant by mystical theology? 
Theology (#eos and Xoyos) is the science that deals with and 
discourses about God, and the things of God. It is manifest 
that we can consider the infinite nature of God in many 
ways. We can point out how far the human mind can know 
God by the mere light of reason. The department of theo 
logy that does this is called "natural theology." Then we can 
proceed to consider what revelation makes known to us 

* An " intuition " means simple and direct mental sight without process of reason 
ing. We all see by intuition that light is not darkness, black is not white, that a part is 
less than the whole, etc. 



ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE xxi 

about God, considered in Himself and in His works. This 
is called " Dogmatic Theology." Moral theology treats of 
God s law, pointing out what He commands and forbids. 

Spiritual theology teaches how the soul of man is to 
work out the great end of its creation, which is to become 
united with God in intellect and will, by faith and love. 
Spiritual Theology is divided into ascetical and mystical 
theology. 

Ascetical theology lays down the ordinary rules which 
apply to all men, showing how they are to avoid sin in 
order to please God, and what they must do in order to 
become united to Him. 

Mystical theology ascends higher and instructs men as 
to what they must do to prepare themselves for the gift of 
contemplation, in case God should deign to bestow it on them. 

Mystical theology therefore differs from dogmatic (or 
scholastic] theology because, instead of being merely specu 
lative and abstract, it is practical, and from moral and 
ascetical theology because it is not content to show men 
how to avoid sin and attain salvation and ordinary virtue, 
but treats of the more excellent way of love, and of that 
intimate union with God in this world which is the fore 
taste of heavenly glory. 

The end and object of mystical theology, or the science 
of true wisdom and of the secret of divine union, is to 
guide the soul of man into the most perfect degree of the 
love of God. 

Mystical theology is therefore a sublime science, since 
it points out to man the way to ascend to God. It is, more 
over, of extreme utility because it is the true practical 
wisdom, not consisting merely in theoretical disputations 
"which minister questionings," but showing how we are 
to avoid evil and become closely united to the infinite 
good. It directs us at once to "the end of the command 
ment charity from a pure heart and a good conscience, 
and faith unfeigned."* 

The spiritual life in general is considered to have three 
principal divisions, through which in some degree all those 

* i Tim. i, 4, 5. 



xxii ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

who save their souls must pass. They are indicated in 
Psalm xxxiii, 15 : 

Depart from evil, and do good; 
Seek peace and pursue it. 

"Depart from evil." The purification of the soul from 
all sin, mortal and venial, and from all affections and desires 
that are not for God, is the first stage of the spiritual life, 
and is called the "purgative state," or the state of puri 
fication. 

"Do good." These two words indicate the second stage 
of the soul s life, which is called the " illuminative state," 
and consists in meditating on and practically imitating the 
life and virtues of Jesus Christ, the light of the world. The 
third stage is called the "unitive way," because the purified 
soul, formed after the model of Christ, does all that is pos 
sible to unite itself to God in perfect love. 

In these three ways, the ways of the Lord, all must walk 
continually. The beginner, though still unpurified, must try 
to follow our Lord and to be united to God by love, and 
the soul most advanced in perfection will always find defects 
to be amended and virtue to be practised more generously. 
But at first the chief work will be to purify the soul, while 
after a time the main object will be to form virtuous habits 
by imitating the life of Christ, and at last the union of love 
will be the one absorbing thought and desire. This union 
can be always made more and more perfect; it can increase 
without measure. 

Before proceeding further it will be useful to explain 
what is meant by the term " spiritual life," and what is 
understood by "union with God," for many use these words 
without any very definite idea of their meaning. 

By spiritual life is meant habitual or sanctifying grace. 
This grace is a supernatural gift of God, poured into our 
souls by the Holy Spirit, and remaining there clothing the 
soul as a habit. It is not a passing movement of the Spirit 
of God, but something dwelling in the soul and raising it 
to a supernatural state. The effect of this noble gift of God s 
goodness is to make the soul holy, righteous and pleasing 



ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE xxiii 

to God. It makes us the adopted children of God, the mem 
bers of Christ and heirs of the kingdom of heaven. This 
abiding grace is the source of all good to us in the super 
natural order, the root, of virtues, of meritorious actions, 
of the sight and love of God. Without it we can do nothing 
to merit eternal life or to promote supernatural union 
with God. 

Our Lord declares that to bestow on us this great prin 
ciple of spiritual good was the precise object of the Incar 
nation: "I have come that they may have life, and may 
have it more abundantly."* St Thomas f teaches us that as 
the soul gives life to the body, so God giveth life to the 
soul, and the holy doctor quotes the words "He is thy life." J 
He is the cause of the supernatural life of the soul by 
bestowing on it habitual and abiding grace. 

The soul of man, the principle of life, has certain powers 
by which it acts, which we call intellect and will. These are 
necessary for every rational act. In like manner the habitual 
grace of God has certain virtues by means of which it acts 
in the supernatural order, and these powers are faith, hope 
and charity which unite the soul to God. The moral vir 
tues are also infused into the soul when it receives super 
natural grace and charity, even though they may have been 
acquired before by the light of reason and practised as 
natural virtues. 

But in order that these virtues may produce their fruit 
actually, the help of God by actual grace is necessary. These 
actual graces are movements of the Holy Ghost. These graces 
are necessary because man is so weak, that he cannot even 
use the virtues poured by God into his soul, without actual 
light given to the mind and strength to the will. "Without 
Me you can do nothing." 

God is so generous that besides grace making us holy 
and pleasing to Him, and actual graces (light and strength) 
continually bestowed upon us, we have also the gifts of the 
Holy Ghost, which are poured into the soul in baptism. 

St Thomas shows at some length II that these gifts are 

* John x, 10. f I, II, qu. i to, art. i ad 2. Deuteronomy xxx, 20. 
John xv, 5. || la 2ae, qu. 68, art. i. 



xxiv ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

really distinct from virtues, though some virtues, e.g., forti 
tude, are called by the same names. 

Of these gifts, four perfect the reason or intellectual 
faculty, namely, wisdom, knowledge, understanding and 
counsel: and three perfect the will, or the power of desire, 
and these are, fortitude, piety and the fear of the Lord. 

On this interesting, though rather abstruse subject, St 
Thomas writes as follows: 

" In order to distinguish the gifts from the virtues, we 
must follow the way of speaking we find in Scripture, in 
which they are described to us not indeed under the name 
of gifts, but of spirits. For we read, " The spirit of the Lord 
shall rest upon Him [Christ], the spirit of wisdom," etc.* 

Now these words clearly give us to understand that the 
seven gifts here enumerated are within us by divine inspira 
tion. But inspiration implies a certain movement from 
outside ourselves. For we must remember that in man 
there is a twofold principle moving the soul: one in the 
soul itself, which is our reason; the other exterior, which 
is God. 

It is clear that everything that is moved must bear 
proportion to the mover. If we consider a thing as able to 
be moved, its perfection in that respect would consist in 
being able to be well and easily moved by the one moving 
it. By how much therefore the mover is higher in his nature, 
the one moved ought to be disposed to movement by a 
more perfect disposition ; as, for example, a more perfect 
state of mental activity is necessary in a pupil to take in a 
more difficult teaching of his professor. 

Now it is evident that human virtues perfect a man s 
natural reason, for it is natural for a man to be moved by 
reason in those things he does, whether within his soul or 
in outward action. 

It is necessary, therefore, for the human soul to have 
certain higher perfections to put him into the right state 
to receive divine movements, and these perfections are called 
"gifts," not only because they are poured into the soul by 

* Isa. xi, 2. 



ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE xxv 

God, but also because by them the human soul is put into 
such a state that it can be promptly moved by the divine 
inspiration. This state is indicated by Isaias, in the words: 
" The Lord God hath opened my ear, and I do not resist: 
I have not gone back." * 

Habitual or sanctifying grace, with the abiding virtues 
and gifts of the Holy Spirit, are bestowed in baptism on 
every Christian ; but, over and above, God often adorns 
His friends with certain special favours, which are called 
" graces freely or gratuitously given." They are thus called 
because they are not essential for salvation or for holiness, 
but are ornaments and treasures by which the spiritual 
favourites of the King are enriched. We see a type of this 
in the natural talents and advantages given to some men 
and not possessed by others. Some have remarkable musical 
or artistic powers, others inherit great riches and honours, 
others enjoy extraordinary literary or poetical gifts. These 
special talents are not necessary to perfect their nature. 
Those who have no sign of them are equally men, though 
they lack many advantages which the ones enriched by 
these special talents enjoy. 

In the spiritual and supernatural order also God is 
pleased to single out certain select souls and to bestow on 
them, according to His will, certain graces that do not 
render them more holy, but make them wonderful and 
illustrious among His servants. 

St Paul enumerates some of these special endowments 
in his first epistle to the Corinthians. f Among these royal 
favours are included the gifts of prophecy, of miraculous 
healing, reaching the hearts of others, and wonderful inter 
course with the unseen world by visions, ecstasies, raptures 
and other things. These are not necessary for salvation or 
perfection, but are freely bestowed upon His faithful ser 
vants, chiefly for the good of others, though sometimes as 
the reward of virtue. They do not increase sanctifying grace, 
and theretore do not render those that receive them more 
holy or more pleasing to God. They are rather signs of 
virtue and of God s good pleasure. After St Peter had cured 

* Isa. I, 5. f i Cor. xii, 8-n. 



xxvi ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

the lame man,* he was no holier than before, but the 
wonderful sign showed the people that God was with him, 
and made them more willing to listen to his teaching. 

Having laid down these elementary principles we shall 
be more easily able to understand the extraordinary events 
in the lives of saints like St Catherine de Ricci. 

The spiritual life is essentually the same in every soul. 
Every baptized person receives sanctifying grace, as the 
principle of all holy life, and with it the supernatural virtues 
and the gifts of the Holy Ghost. All have to be purified 
from sin, to practise virtue, and to be united to God by 
charity. But some do this much more perfectly than others. 
Many pass through their whole lives without much pro 
gress. Constantly falling away from God by sin they come 
to the end of their probation very little purified, with very 
weak virtue and slight union with God, leaving the work 
of their purification to be accomplished in the next world. 
Others make holiness the one object of their lives, and at 
tain, by God s grace, to very intimate union with Him even 
in this mortal state. Of these the Holy Ghost says: "The 
path of the just as a shining light, goeth forwards and in- 
creaseth even unto perfect day."f 

Before proceeding further it will be useful to explain 
what is meant by the state of contemplation. We often hear 
of the contemplative orders, the Carthusians and Cistercians 
among men, and the Carmelites and Poor Clares for women. 
Those who enter these orders adopt a quiet life of prayer 
and penance instead of devoting their energies to works of 
charity. The members of these Orders are called contempla 
tive Religious, or members of a contemplative Order, but 
they are not on that account in "a state of contemplation," 
in the sense that mystical theology understands that term. 

Contemplation is a free gift of God to a faithful soul. 
It is a divine visit made by God to the soul, enlightening 
it and uniting it in most ardent and sweet love with Him 
self. In this supernatural state the soul, in some way, sees 
God, not by the indirect way of reasoning and meditation 
but by a simple intuition or spiritual sight. This heavenly 
visit may vary very much in details, as regards intensity, 

* Acts iii. f Prov. iv, 18. 



ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE xxvii 

duration and the like, for being a perfectly gratuitous favour 
of almighty God, it is evident that no rules can be laid 
down in the matter. 

Writers of mystical theology treat of "ordinary" and 
" extraordinary " contemplation. 

Contemplation is described as "ordinary," not because 
it is a common thing, but because it is an elevation of mind 
into God, not by reasoning and meditation, but by simple 
intuition, by means of special divine light and with most 
ardent love, but still within the laws of God s ordinary 
providence in dealing with holy souls. This kind of con 
templation is called in a certain sense "acquired," and may 
be said in a measure to depend on the exertions of the soul, 
but only in a limited sense. For it is a distinct gift of God 
and without the free action of His grace it cannot be secured 

O 

by anything the soul can do or suffer. But the soul can dis 
pose itself for the divine visit, and thus invite God to come 
and bestow His special favours upon it. 

We must remember that this ordinary contemplation 
is a supernatural state implying intense love of God and 
entire submission to His will, and therefore is totally 
different from a merely speculative and philosophical con 
templation of truth, which may carry away the mind, but 
without any supernatural action of God. The main diffe 
rence consists in its being the action of God s grace on the 
intellect and the will, and therefore not speculative only, 
but implying also a vehement motion of love to God. 

Benedict XIV, in his work on the canonization of saints, 
describes contemplation as being " a simple intellectual 
intuition (or mental insight) of divine things with the 
relish of love." This proceeds from a special action of God 
on the intellect and will, by which the soul sees and realizes 
divine truths. The soul is attracted and drawn into God by 
a singular brightness of light in the intellect and united to 
Him by burning love in the will. 

The words of Psalm xxxiii, 9, "Taste and see how sweet 
the Lord is"; and Psalm xlv, n, "Be still and see that 
I am God," are considered to refer particularly to the soul 
when thus visited by God. Also the Beatitude, "Blessed 
are the clean of heart for they shall see God." For, though 



xxviii ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

in this life in the body we cannot see the divine essence, 
still these words of our Lord seem to imply that a soul 
truly purified can be raised by His light to a simple intui 
tion of His presence. 

There is such a thing as a merely natural rapture, by 
which a man is carried out of himself, and loses conscious 
ness of where he is or what he is doing or suffering by 
intense concentration of the mind on one thought. In such 
cases the rapture is only partial. 

This is a power we often see in the lives of eminent 
thinkers. Sir Isaac Newton, Gladstone, Newman, and many 
others, had this power of concentration of mind in a marked 
degree. St Thomas Aquinas possessed it, as few others ever 
did. We are told that when the surgeons came to perform an 
operation on his leg, the holy doctor so concentrated the 
whole force of his mind upon the mystery of the blessed 
Trinity, that he felt no pain. This need not have been 
miraculous. It may have been the effect of intense concen 
tration of mind, amounting to entire rapture, the holy man 
thus anticipating the merciful office of chloroform. 

Quite different, however, not only in degree but in kind, 
is the extraordinary contemplation of the saints. 

Contemplation is called extraordinary when there is an 
elevation of the mind into God by simple intuition and 
most ardent affection of love, above the ordinary laws of 
God s dealings with souls. We may call it miraculous con 
templation; for it is as miraculous in the order of grace as 
it would be in the natural order to fly in the air, or to pass 
through fire without injury. 

Instances of this miraculous state of union with God are 
found in the holy Scripture. One notable example is found 
in the transfiguration of our Lord on Mount Thabor, during 
which the three apostles were by special privilege allowed to 

see His glory and were carried out of themselves by an 

. 

ecstasy of love, speaking words, yet " not knowing what 

they said." * 

Also the marvellous rapture described by St Paul f is 
an example of miraculous contemplation of the highest kind, 

* Mark ix, 5. -\ z Cor. xii. 



ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE xxix 

in which the apostle was " caught up," by the Spirit of God, 
" into paradise, and heard secret or c mystical words which 
it is not lawful for man to utter." 

St Thomas in his commentary on 2 Cor. xii, considers 
that the apostle speaks of two different raptures, one in 
verse 2, in which (whether in the body or out of it he knew 
not) he was " rapt to the third heaven "; and another in 
which (again not knowing whether his soul left his body or 
not) he was caught up to paradise, and saw the very essence 
of God. 

The first rapture, when his soul was rapt, or carried 
away by the power of Christ, to the third heaven, is an 
example of extraordinary contemplation resting on the au 
thority of the inspired word. St Thomas conjectures that it 
took place during the three days in Damascus,^ after his 
conversion, which he passed in blindness and neither eating 
nor drinking. 

Whenever the miraculous ecstasy occurred, the apostle 
declares that he was rapt, that is transported, out of him 
self, by the power of God. He had, in other words, a 
mystical ecstasy. 

As the soul possesses the twofold power of intellect 
and will, the rapture may be principally directed to one or 
the other, though both will be always acted upon, for the 
soul is simple, and cannot really be divided. 

If the effect is primarily on the will, then the soul is 
carried away from the love of self to the intense love of 
God and the things of God. A rapture of this nature is 
called seraphic. 

On the other hand, when the action of God affects 
directly and principally the intellectual faculty which is out 
of itself and is flooded with intellectual light, then the 
rapture is called by mystical writers cherubic. In both 
cases there is light and love, but in the first the will is 
primarily and principally affected, and in the second the 
intellect. 

The rapture of St Paul was cherubic, because the first 
and chief effect was the illumination of the intellect, though 

* Acts ix. 



xxx ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

accompanied, as in all true contemplation, with intense love 
uniting the will to God. 

The reason of raptures being called either cherubic or 
seraphic is found in analogy to the two choirs of the angelic 
host which are nearest God. These are the seraphim and 
cherubim. The seraphim excel all the other choirs in that 
which is the highest thing of all, in loving union with God, 
and the cherubim know the divine secrets in the most 
excellent degree. 

A rapture, then, means an elevation of soul from a natural 
to a supernatural state by the action of a higher power. The 
raising up of the soul from the ordinary state of intellect 
and will to an extraordinary condition by the action 
of God. 

St Paul, in describing his first rapture, says he was 
carried " even to the third heaven." We may ask what is 
meant by this expression? 

One interpretation considers that allusion is made to 
the air above us, the spaces of the sidereal heavens, and the 
empyrean heaven, which was considered to be the highest 
heaven, where the pure element of fire was supposed by 
the ancients to subsist. 

But this ancient notion, founded on mistaken notions 
of the physical universe, was considered by St Thomas as 
too material. So the holy doctor reminds us that there are 
three kinds of vision: 

1. Corporeal vision, with our material eyes, by which 
we see and know bodily objects. 

2. Imaginary vision by which we can form in the mind 
the likeness of a material object that we have seen. The 
imagination cannot represent things we have never seen 

3. Intellectual vision, or sight, by which we can see the 
natures of things in themselves. By this kind of sight we 
see an abstract truth, for instance that a thing cannot be and 
not be at the same time. 

If these three kinds of sight are exercised in the ordi 
nary way they are simply natural. They cannot in any sense 
be called "heavens." 

But any one of them may be called "heaven," if they 



ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE xxxi 

come to be exercised by the action of God in a way above 
the natural power of man. 

1. If with the bodily eyes a man sees something above 
the ordinary power of nature, he may be said to be rapt to 
the first heaven. In this way was Baltassar or Belshazzar 
affected when he saw the mysterious hand writing on the 
wall.* 

2. But if the soul is lifted up, and enabled to see, not an 
object appearing to the eyes of the body, but some interior 
image of the mind representing figuratively a supernatural 
truth, then a man may be said to be carried to the second 
heaven. An instance of this may be found in St Peter s 
vision when he saw "heaven opened, and a certain vessel 
descending unto him, as if it had been a great sheet knit 
at the four corners, and let down to the earth; wherein were 
all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts 
and creeping things and fowls of the air, etc.f 

This was a heavenly vision presented to the imagination, 
to teach St Peter the Christian doctrine that not only the 
Jews but all nations of the earth were called to the Catholic 
Church and to salvation. St Peter was in an ecstasy, or as 
the English version translates it, "a trance," during which, 
having lost consciousness of outward things he was carried 
to the "second heaven" and interiorly instructed by an 
imaginary vision. 

But St Paul tells us of his own case that he was carried 
higher still, to "the third heaven," because he was so 
utterly raised above all sensible and bodily things and 
favoured with a vision of things purely intellectual in the 
same way in which they are seen by the angels and souls 
separated from their bodies. What is more wonderful, he 
saw in this rapture even the essence of God Himself, as St 
Augustine clearly maintains.^ 

Nor, continues St Thomas, is it probable that Moses, 
the minister of the Old Testament to the Jews, should see 
God, and the minister of the New Testament to the nations 
and the doctor of the Gentiles should be deprived of this 
privilege. 

* Dan. v. f Acts x, n. 

J XII super Gen. ad litt. et in Glossa et ad Paulin. in libr. de videndo Deum. 



xxxii ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

Now it is clear that Moses did see the essence of God. 
He asked this favour in so many words, saying "Show me 
Thy Face."* Though it was at that time denied, we are not 
told that his petition was finally rejected. St Augustine s 
opinion is that it was conceded at some other time, and that 
this is implied by the expressions in the book of Numbers, 
were the Lord said: " Hear My words: if there be among 
you a prophet of the Lord, I will appear to him in a vision 
or speak to him in a dream; but it is not so with My servant 
Moses, who is most faithful in all My house. For I speak 
to him mouth to mouth, and plainly, not by riddles and 
figures doth he see the Lord."f 

For this transient sight of the Essence of God it was 
necessary that St Paul should be carried completely above 
all sensible and bodily things. It would be impossible for 
God to be seen face to face in this life by a man not entirely 
abstracted from all sensible things, because no image, no 
thing represented by the imagination, could be a medium 
sufficient to show the essence of God. In order to see Him 
a man must be rapt to the third heaven. 

There is another way of interpreting the words " the 
third heaven. "J There are in heaven three hierarchies of 
angels, in each of which there are three choirs. These three 
hierarchies may represent the three heavens, and, according 
to this interpretation, St Paul was rapt to the third heaven 
in this sense, that he saw the essence of God as clearly as 
the angels of the highest hierarchy see Him. They, the 
Cherubim and Seraphim and Thrones, see Him so clearly 
that they are enlightened immediately by God Himself and 
thus they know the divine mysteries. This same high illu 
mination was given to St Paul. 

An objection might be made to this interpretation. It 
might be said that, were this true, St Paul would have been 
in his mortal life glorified and a "comprehensor" : that is, 
one who enjoys the beatific vision. 

But this was not so. Even though he did see the essence 
of God he was not one of the glorified, because it was not 

* Exod. xxxiii, 13. -j- Numbers xii, 6, 7, 8. J St Thomas in loco. 



ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE xxxiii 

a permanent and abiding vision but only transient and 
during his rapture. 

We must notice that St Paul says of his rapture, 
:< Whether in the body, I know not, or out of the body, I 
know not, God knoweth." In what sense are we to under 
stand this expression? 

Some consider that by these words the apostle declares 
that he did not know whether, in this rapture, his body, as 
well as his soul, was carried away, or whether his soul only 
ascended or was assumed into the third heaven; whether he 
was carried up in a bodily way, as we read of Habacuc in 
the last chapter of Daniel, or in the way Ezechiel describes 
in the eighth chapter of his prophecy. 

St Augustine and St Thomas do not admit this inter 
pretation, considering that if St Paul had been carried up, 
in the body, into a corporeal heaven he must have known 
it ; and therefore they interpret the passage to mean that the 
apostle did not know whether, in that vision, his soul was 
so utterly abstracted from all sensible things as to be for the 
time ^entirely out of his body; or whether his soul was all 
the time still animating the body and only raised in mind 
above all sensible and corporeal things. The words of God 
in Exodus, "Man shall not see Me and live,"* are con 
sidered to mean that man cannot see God unless the soul is 
entirely separated from the bodily life, either in the sense 
of being completely out of the body and separated from it, 
as after death; or when, remaining still as the life of the 
body, it is completely abstracted from sensible things: i.e., 
the second rapture. f 

The difference between the two aforementioned visions 
or raptures is that, in the first St Paul describes himself as 
"rapt to the third heaven," and in the second as "caught 
up into paradise." 

If we accept the more spiritual meaning of the " third 
heaven," as indicating that the soul did not receive a mere 
imaginary vision, but entirely abstracted above all visible 
and corporal things so as to see purely intellectual truths in 
themselves, then there will be no distinction of place be- 

* Exod. xxxiii. f 2 Cor. xii, 3, 4. 



xxxiv ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

tween the " third heaven " and " paradise." One and the 
same is meant by both expressions, namely the glory of 
the saints; but looked at from two different points of view. 

For by the word "heaven" is meant a certain marvel 
lous elevation of mind with singular brightness of intellec 
tual light, while by the word " paradise " is indicated a 
wonderfully high degree of joy and sweetness. In the first 
is indicated primarily the illumination of the intellect and 
in the second the delight of the will light and sweetness. 

The angels and the blessed who see God face to face 
possess light and sweetness both in an excellent degree. 
There is in their minds wonderful brightness of glory by the 
light of which they see God, and intense sweetness which 
comes from the possession and fruition of God. And there 
fore they may be said to be in "heaven," if we consider the 
brightness of their vision, and in "paradise," if we consider 
the sweetness and joy of their union with God. "You shall 
see, and your hearts shall rejoice." 

Both these gifts were bestowed upon the apostle in these 
mystical visions, for he was lifted above all earthly things 
into the very highest spiritual brightness of vision, and thus 
was "rapt to the third heaven" ; and he moreover had joyful 
experience of the sweetness of divine union, and thus was 
"caught up into paradise." 

" O how great is the multitude of Thy sweetness, O Lord, 

Which Thou hast hidden from them that fear Thee, 
Which Thou hast wrought for them that hope in Thee, 
In the sight of the sons of men. "f 

"To him that shall overcome I will give the hidden (or 
mystical) manna." J 

This sweetness, this mystical manna, is the joy flowing 
perpetually from the full possession of God, of which it is 
said, "Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord. " 

The exalted nature of the ecstasy with which he was 
favoured is shown by the following words. St Paul tells us 
"he heard secret (or mystical) words, which it is not granted 
to man to utter." 

By the expression "he heard secret words" is meant that 

* Isa, Ixiii, 14. { Ps. xxx, 20. J Apoc. ii, 17. 



ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE xxxv 

he perceived by the light of God in his soul, secret or un 
speakable things about the divine essence. 

As St Paul was miraculously rapt from earth to heaven 
and saw, in a passing manner, the very essence of God Him 
self, it is evident that it was impossible for him to describe 
what had been communicated to him, in human language. 
Words are symbols by which we convey to others the ideas 
of our own mind, but these exalted truths were so much 
above human ken that they were secret, mystical, incompre 
hensible to ordinary men. 

Before speaking of this rapture, which was far more 
wonderful than any related of St Catherine de Ricci, St 
Paul says: "If I must glory (it is not expedient indeed), 
but I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord." 

As St Catherine and the other mystics had so many 
visions and revelations, it will be interesting to ask what is 
the difference between them. 

Every revelation, by which God makes known to the 
human mind some truth by an inner and supernatural 
light, may be called a vision. By the action of God, the soul 
sees something invisible to unaided knowledge. 

But, on the other hand, every vision is not a revelation. 

It may happen that a man s soul receives a supernatural 
communication from God, but the man understands not 
the meaning of what is represented to him. In that case 
there is a vision, but no revelation. 

The visions of Pharao and of King Nabuchodonoser 
were of this nature, and were not revelations. f 

On the other hand, where there is an understanding of 
the spiritual meaning of the thing seen, then there is a 
revelation. 

So Pharao and Nabuchodonoser had a vision only, but 
Joseph and Daniel both a vision and a revelation. 

Both the vision and the revelation are sometimes from 
God. "There is God in heaven, who revealeth mysteries."J 

Sometimes, however, visions and revelations may come 
from the evil spirit: "They [the prophets of Samaria] 
prophesied in Baal and deceived My people Israel."* 

* Gen. xli; Dan. ii. f Dan. ii, 28; compare Osee xii, 10. J Jer. xxiii, 13. 



xxxvi ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

The apostle St Paul had both visions and revelations, 
because the secret (mystical) things he saw he fully under 
stood by the action of the Lord, not by any deception of 
the devil. 

The word "revelation" signifies the taking away of a 
veil that hides truth. This intellectual veil may be twofold: 

1 . The veil may be in the mind of the man who sees the 
vision, and may be the effect of infidelity or want of faith, 
sin or hardness of heart.* 

2. Or the veil may be over the thing seen; when, that 
is, a spiritual truth is represented to a man s mind under 
sensible figures. Weak minds, weak in faith and love, can 
not take in spiritual things if they are presented to their 
minds as they are in themselves. This is typified by the rule 
given to the priests, that they should carry the vessels of 
the sanctuary veiled. All things in the old law were figures 
of the spiritual realities of the new dispensation; and this 
is a type of the truth that souls weak in light and love (faith 
and charity) are not able to understand, take in and see 
spiritual things as they are in themselves. These things 
must be represented to them under figures, allegories and 
parables. Therefore our Lord spoke to the people in parables. 
But to those more enlightened He said: "Blessed are your 
eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear."f 

^Another divine Gift bestowed on God s Servants, not to 
increase their Sanctity but for the good of others, is 
that of (prophecy 

i. What is meant by a Prophet? 

The word is derived from a Greek word signifying to 
foretell. A prophet, therefore, denotes a man who can see 
certain things afar off. In early times a man thus en 
lightened was called a "seer," or "one able to see." J 

Prophecy, then, is the sight of things afar off, either 
because they are future and contingent (that is possible but 
not necessary to occur), or because they are above the reason 
of man and require supernatural light. 

* 2 Cor. iii, 14. f Matt, xiii, 13. J I Kings ix. 



ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE xxxvii 

For prophecy, four things are necessary. 

1. The first requisite is that in the imagination should 
be formed the likenesses of those things that appear to the 
mind; for it is impossible for a ray of divine light to shine 
upon us unless wrapt in a variety of sacred veils. 

2. The second thing required is intellectual illumina 
tion of the mind that it may know and understand the things 
shown which are above natural knowledge. For unless the 
one who sees the images formed in the imagination under 
stands their secret significance, he is a dreamer not a pro 
phet as Pharao was. 

3. The third thing required for a prophet is boldness 
to announce what has been communicated to his mind. 

4. The fourth is the working of miracles done to show 
the truth of the prophecy. For unless the prophet does 
something above the power of nature, men will be slow to 
believe that he can see the future by a supernatural light. 

Different ^Degrees 

Sometimes a man appears in whom all these four things 
are combined. He sees imaginary visions and, having the 
knowledge of what they portend, he boldly proclaims it to 
others, at the same time working miracles as the credentials 
of what he foretells.* On the other hand, a man is some 
times called a prophet who has only imaginary visions, but 
in a very indistinct and remote way. 

Again, the name of prophet used to be given to one 
who had intellectual light, which enabled him to explain 
imaginary visions that have come to himself or others; or 
to expound the dark sayings of the prophets or the writings 
of the apostles. In this way any one is a prophet who under 
stands the writings of the wise, for by the same spirit from 
whom they come are they interpreted. Solomon and David 
are thus called prophets because they had intellectual light 
by which they could see clearly the dark mysteries of God. 
David s visions were intellectual only. 

Moreover, in a wide sense, the name of prophet was 
occasionally given to a man, only from the fact that he an- 

* Numbers xii, 6. 



xxxviii ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

nounced or explained the sayings of the prophets or sang 
them in church, and in this way it was said that Saul was 
among the prophets, that is, among those who chanted the 
words of the prophets. 

Lastly, a man who has the gift of miracles is sometimes 
called a prophet, as, for instance, when it is said of Eliseus, 
"After death his body prophesied,"* that is, his relics 
worked a miracle. 

What St Paul says in chapter xiv of i Corinthians is to 
be understood of those who are prophets in the second sense, 
namely, by being able through divine intellectual light, to 
explain the meaning of visions shown to himself or to others. 

Gift of Tongues 

In the primitive Church there were few to whom was 
given the office of preaching the faith of Christ through the 
world, therefore our Lord, for the more easy spreading of 
the word of salvation to a greater number, bestowed on 
preachers the gift of tongues, by which they might announce 
salvation to all. They spoke all languages. "I thank God 
that I speak with all your tongues." f Many in the primi 
tive church had this gift from God. 

The Corinthians desired this gift more than that of 
prophecy. When the Apostle then writes of "speaking with 
tongues," he means speaking in an unknown tongue and 
being understood; as, for instance, if a man spoke in German 
to a French man, who was ignorant of German, and was 
understood. 

Many saints received the gift of tongues, either speak 
ing in their own language and being understood by those 
who knew not their tongue, or speaking miraculously 
languages they had not learnt. St Vincent Ferrer, St Lewis 
Bertrand, St Francis Xavier and many others, are instances 
of this wonderful gift-ljl 

In the light of these instances of the higher mystical 

* Ecclus xlviii, 14. t I Cor. xiv, 18, and Acts i. 

In the first Epistle to the Corinthians (xiv) the Apostle seems to speak of the gift 
of tongues as merely, or at least chiefly, bestowed as a sign of the indwelling Spirit. 
Neither the speakers nor the hearers appeared always to have understood. 



ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE xxxix 

life, from St Paul, explained to us by St Thomas, we are 
more able to understand the life of St Catherine and the 
other mystics and the wonderful favours bestowed on them 
by our Lord. 

St Catherine was an instance of one chosen and singled 
out by God for the state of extraordinary contemplation, 
which means that she was visited, or acted upon, by His 
divine Majesty in a miraculous manner. 

She was prepared for this state of extraordinary union 
with God from her infancy. God took possession of her 
soul in a special way, not granted to ordinary people, and 
He bestowed upon her extraordinary lights and helps to 
prepare her for her future union with Himself by charity. 
At what period of her life she first received the gift of 
contemplation it is difficult to say. The ordinary rule is that 
the gift is not bestowed on any soul that has not undergone 
a long and painful course of purification, so as to become, 
by cleanness of heart, "the King s friend." "He that loveth 
cleanness of heart . . . . shall have the King for his friend."* 
This purification from the least and most hidden vestige 
of self-love is generally a long and painful process, in which 
are recognized two different stages, which may be either 
simultaneous or succeeding each other. The first is called 
the active, the second the passive, purification. 

In the first the soul is purified by what it does itself, 
with God s grace. All kinds of austerities that afflict the 
body are of this class and especially all self-restraint that 
mortifies the inner powers of the soul. In it is included the 
whole region of mortification, exterior as well as interior. 

The second stage is much more painful and searching. 
It is when God takes the direct management of the purifying 
process into His own hands, and begins to cleanse the soul 
Himself: the soul is then passive under His divine touch. 
Those who have read the Life of Blessed Henry Suso 
will remember how, after several years of strict austerity 
and brave penance, he was told that he might now cast away 
his instruments of corporal mortification. He was delighted, 
and describes in his simple, childlike way, the joy of being 

* Prov. xxii, n. 



xl ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

delivered from these hard and difficult exercises. Then he is 
shown under the figure of an old cloth, tossed up and down, 
carried hither and thither, torn and rent by the teeth of a 
dog, how God was now about to take his soul into His own 
hands, and that torn clout was an image of how his soul 
must be treated. Descending into the cloister Blessed Henry 
rescued the cloth from the dog and preserved it with great 
care as the image of himself. 

Then he was subjected to such a series of searching 
trials without and within, calumny, persecution, sickness, 
temptation, aridity and desolation, that all the austerities 
and penances he had inflicted on himself appeared to him 
as mere child s play. 

Of these terrible sufferings he lovingly complains to the 
Eternal Wisdom in his Dialogue, saying: " It may well be, 
Lord, that afflictions are most wholesome, if only they are 
not too great. But, O Lord God, who alone knowest all 
hidden things, Thou Thyself dost see that my sufferings 
now are without measure and entirely beyond my strength." 
To this the Eternal Wisdom replies: " From thy own expe 
rience surely thou hast learnt that the crosses sent by Me 
(the passive purification), if a man knows how to use them 
aright, come more home, penetrate more deeply and more 
quickly urge a man to give himself to God and in a way 
force him into God, than any chosen by his own will" (active 
purification). 

What is the object of all this suffering, of all this long 
series of painful afflictions of body and soul ? It is to cleanse 
the soul, to cast out self-love, to prepare the inner sanctu 
ary of the spirit to be the marriage-chamber in the spiritual 
nuptials between God and the soul. 

And what is meant by purifying or cleansing the soul ? 
It is an allegory taken from the idea of cleaning a room or 
washing stains from the hands or face or from white gar 
ments. The cleansing of the soul must be the casting out of 
the memory and intellect every thought that is not God or 
for God. This is, in other words, making the soul love God 
with its whole mind. The memory has to be so completely 
mortified before God can visit the soul, as to remember 



ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE xli 

nothing but God, and the things necessary to be remem 
bered for the service of God. In like manner the intellect 
must be so restrained as to be occupied only with God and 
the things of God. 

This no doubt renders very holy men not such pleasant 
companions to those who are in a lower state of soul. They 
can take interest in few things. Their thoughts and desires 
are all entirely centred on God and invisible things. They 
can take a lively interest in nothing else. So we are told of 
St Dominic that he could talk only of God or to God, be 
cause his memory and intellect were full of the thought of 
God and nothing else. 

Besides this, the will has to be purified. What is meant 
by having the heart and will, the desires and affections 
made clean and pure? Pure means unmixed. Pure water, 
pure wine, are not mingled with any other substance. Wine 
mixed with water is not pure wine. The human will is 
likewise pure when it has one only desire God and union 
with God. This must be the state of the soul before it can 
be ready for the supernatural visit of God, called con 
templation. All self-love must be entirely excluded. The 
movement of grace must be the beginning of every de 
liberate action, and God s glory must be its end. The love 
of God, that is the desire to please God, must be the 
motive for doing or not doing everything, the will of God 
must be the rule regulating every action, whilst the presence 
of God must be the sunshine illuminating and animating 
everything.* 

This is a simple process of prayer, of which all are 
capable, but mystical contemplation is impossible without 
the special and gratuitous visit of God to the soul. 

For this happy and holy state the soul must have learnt 
complete, prompt and perpetual submission to God s will, 

* In the Spiritual exercises of St Ignatius some exercises are called meditations, others 
contemplations. The word "contemplation" here means something quite distinct from 
the supernatural visit of God, either ordinary or miraculous. In the exercises called 
^ meditations" the principle thing is the discourse of the mind reasoning about the sub 
ject, in order to draw the will to prayer; in the exercises called "contemplations" the 
soul looks at the mystery as a kind of picture, without so much reasoning, and speaks 
to those seen in the picture, listens to them, watches them, etc. 



xlii ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

and this heavenly knowledge can be acquired nowhere save 
in the school of suffering, the divine school of the cross. 

Give sorrow leave awhile to tutor me 
To this submission. 

Nothing else than the cross can give this submission, 
absolute, entire, unhesitating, cheerful and loving, to God s 
will. 

When the soul has been thus purified, God may, if He 
pleases and when He pleases, bestow upon it the grace of 
contemplation, either in an ordinary or in an extraordinary 
manner, in divers degrees and for different lengths of time. 

All this may be traced in the life of any saint. In St 
Catherine we have an instance of a soul purified in great 
measure from early childhood, kept clean from sin and 
unruly desire by the indwelling Spirit of God, though not 
without her own co-operation. Therefore much less purifica 
tion was necessary, and the gift of ordinary contemplation 
was evidently bestowed at a very early age. The more 
wonderful favour of extraordinary contemplation was be 
stowed also at an early age, or perhaps from the very 
beginning. 

God intended her light not to be under a bushel, but to 
be put on a candlestick, that it might shine unto all that are 
in the house of His Church. Therefore he added many won 
derful "graces freely given," such as visions, raptures, pro 
phecies, miracles and other extraordinary manifestations of 
His wisdom, goodness and power. 

These things, it should be remembered, did not make 
St Catherine holy. She would have been as holy without 
them. Her holiness consisted in the high degree of sanctify 
ing grace and union with God to which she was raised by the 
Divine Majesty. 

But without these signs of God s special favour she might 
have remained one of the vast multitude of hidden saints, not 
recognized on earth. 

Having a special work to accomplish, as the instrument 
of God, in the Church and for individual souls, it was neces 
sary that she should be favoured by many outward and 



ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE xliii 

visible manifestations of God s special and miraculous deal 
ings with her soul. 

From what has been said it follows that the words 
"mystic," "mystical," "mysticism" are often used in mo 
dern literature in a sense very different from that in which 
Catholic writers employ them. Often indeed it is not easy to 
understand what modern authors do mean by these phrases, 
and perhaps the writers themselves could not very clearly 
explain. It might indeed be considered almost as profane to 
demand a definition of so vague an idea, as it would be to 
inquire of certain modern poets what exactly they meant by 
their verses. They express probably a kind of universal ten 
dency of general vagueness that cannot be precisely defined. 
Thus, philosophical writers are sometimes described as 
"mystical " who have a symbolical way of looking at ab 
stract truths. Again writers of fiction often describe their 
characters as "mystically inclined," because their minds have 
a tinge of melancholy and regard ethical or religious truth in 
a dreamy, imaginative and unpractical kind of way. 

The Catholic mystical theologians have on the other 
hand, as has been shown in this essay, a very definite and 
precise meaning when they use the word mysticism, and 
can indicate very clearly what they signify by calling a man 
a mystic or by saying that he walked in mystical ways. 

They mean that the soul was chosen by our Lord to lead 
a life of close and constant union with God. Such a soul, in 
a most perfect way, realizes the ideal held out by St Paul in 
the words: "Always rejoice, pray without ceasing, in all 
things give thanks." * 

A mystic in this real and highest sense fully appreciates 
that lovely distich of Cowper, who possessed so religious a 
mind that, had he only been a Catholic, he might himself have 
walked in mystical ways, instead of being driven into mad 
ness by the blasphemous horrors of Calvinism. 

These two lines St Catherine herself might have written, 
in her highest union of mystical love: 

Give what Thou wilt, without Thee we are poor, 

And rich with Thee, take what Thou wilt away. 

* i Thess. v, 1 6. 



xliv ST CATHERINE DE RICC1 

St Paul, as we can easily draw from what he has written 
in his epistles, was an eminent mystic. We have already 
seen how he was favoured by the highest visions, raptures 
and revelations. 

His hidden, secret (that is mystical), life of union with 
God can be gathered from incidental sayings about him 
self in his various epistles. 

A man who is a Christian mystic lives an entirely super 
natural life, having no object he desires in this world; 
and St Paul could say with full truth: "I live, now not I, 
but Christ liveth in me."* 

A mystic is one who has no inclination for anything 
earthly, having tasted and found by experience how sweet 
the Lord is; and St Paul declares: " I count all things to 
be but loss, for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ 
our Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and 
count them as dung, that I may gain Christ." 

A mystic has one and only one desire, union with God. 
St Paul testifies this concerning himself. Nothing else did 
he desire in life or death, nothing else could satisfy the 
hunger and quench the thirst of his soul. So he exclaimed: 
" To me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain." j- 

A mystic is one utterly abandoned without reserve, in 
life and death, to Jesus Christ, and St Paul tells us: " With 
Christ, 1 am nailed the cross." J 

A man walking in mystical ways speaks of himself as 
annihilated in Jesus Christ, in the sense that natural life is 
of no value to him except in as far as by it he can give glory 
to Jesus Christ, and what but this is expressed in those sub 
lime words, " Now also shall Christ be magnified in my 
body, whether by life or by death" ? 

Mystical writers speak of holy people being transformed 
into Jesus Christ, meaning by this strong expression the in 
timate union of the purified soul with our Lord, and St Paul 
says that he bore in his very body "the marks of the Lord 
Jesus."|| 

The mystical mind has so put on the Lord Jesus that it 

* Gal. ii, 20. f Phil, i, 21. J Gal. ii, 19. Phil, i, 20. 
|| Gal. vi, 17. 



ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE xlv 

looks on everything in the same light that He did, and this 
St Paul meant when he described himself as "not knowing 
anything, but Jesus Christ and Him crucified." 

The will of a man in mystical ways is entirely and for 
ever united to the Will of God, expressed by that short, 
simple yet comprehensive aspiration of the Apostle, "Lord, 
what wilt Thou have me to do ? " 

Lastly, the whole object of the mystical soul is to imi 
tate and reproduce the character and life of Jesus Christ, 
and how perfectly did St Paul accomplish this before he 
exhorted the Corinthians to follow his example: "Be ye 
imitators of me, as I am of Christ" !* 

The reader of the Life of St Catherine will see how 
perfectly she could apply all these sayings of St Paul to 
herself. They exactly describe her inner life, and this be 
cause she, as well as the apostle, was an eminent Christian 
mystic. 

BERTRAND WILBERFORCE, O.P. 

* I Cor. xi, i. 



ERRATA 

Page 163, line 1 2, for "this " read " the " 

Page 183, note,>r " Chapter XIX " read " Chapter XII " 



ST CATHERINE 
DE RICCI 



CHAPTER I 

St Catherine s Family Birth (1522) Early Years 

f ^HE Ricci family, which gave birth to St Cathe 
rine, belonged to one of the patrician houses of 
Florence. Its members came of an ancient race of 
--M^ bankers and merchants, who had always divided 
their lives between the counting-house and the magistracy; 
and who caring as a rule more for the good of their country, 
for cultivating the arts, and for enjoying public life, than for 
making their fortunes had helped to form the energetic and 
brilliant, if somewhat turbulent, aristocracy of the Republic. 
Nearly three hundred years before the saint s birth an 
ancestor of hers, Uguccione de Ricci, is said to have taken a 
noted part in one of the great faction-fights of the time, 
and to have furiously defended a feudal tower of his 
family s, with the help of a mob, against his rivals the 
Albizzi.* The fight appears to have had its origin in some 
conspiracy formed by Uguccione for the purpose of raising 
the Ricci faction to power and humiliating the family they 
hated, which resulted in success for the Ricci; and in after 
days the latter seem on the whole to have favoured the 
Medici rule, though somewhat lukewarmly, not because 



* This story of Uguccione de Ricci is given without any authority named by Guasti in 
the Introduction to the "Letters" and copied from him by Pere Bayonne. The present 
writer, looking carefully through Napier s detailed history of Florence, and other 
Italian chroniclers that he refers to, can find no mention of this particular fight, nor of 
any noted one in which a Ricci took part. 



2 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

they genuinely approved it but because the Albizzi were 
against it, and it brought about their banishment. 

The saint s father, Pierfrancesco de Ricci, son of a 
Roberto, was a prominent man in Florence, and much 
valued by his fellow-citizens. Both before and under the 
Medici he held one important office of state after another, 
being in turn Prior, Gonfalonier, " Member of the Six," 
and later Member of the " Council of Two Hundred." 
Afterwards he filled posts of local government in both 
town and country, dying, as we shall see, a Maritime 
Consul ; but all the time remaining head of the family 
bank, which he managed with the help of his eldest brother 
Federigo, who was his partner. Federigo was of equal 
consequence in the city with Pierfrancesco, and a man 
of considerable character. On the occasion of the revolt 
in 1527 which temporarily deprived the Medici of power, 
being made "Prior" for the moment, he chivalrously de 
clined at great cost to himself to use his authority against 
the unpopular rulers. 

Catherine s mother sprang from an illustrious Italian 
family, that of the Ricasoli, of which she was the last re 
presentative and sole heiress.* Her own name was Catherine 
de Panzano, daughter of a Ridolfo, and she married Pier 
francesco de Ricci in 1514. 

Guasti, in his Introduction to the Letters, mentions a 
romantic but sad history connected with a paternal aunt 
of St Catherine s, Marietta de Ricci (a woman so re 
nowned in her day for wickedness that she became the 
subject of many fictions) which makes a strange contrast 
to that of her holy niece. In the saint s own generation, 
also, the two families of Federigo and Pierfrancesco had 
curiously contrasting lots, for poor Federigo had a daughter 
named Cassandra who followed in this aunt s footsteps and 
was a grief and shame to her family throughout her career. 
Neither of these two life-histories, however, appears to have 
actually crossed that of the saint, and they are mentioned 

* In the South Kensington Museum, amongst a most interesting collection of mediaeval 
Italian " marriage coffers," there is one beautifully painted, showing the magnificent wed 
ding procession of a Ricasoli, probably a maternal ancestress of our saint. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 3 

here only to make a picture of the family and surround 
ings from which she sprang. 

The future saint (whose name of Catherine was only 
given to her in Religion) appears to have been the eldest * 
of her mother s children; she was born on April 23, 1522, 
and was baptized next day with the name of Alessandra 
Lucrezia Romola. Her birth did not take place in the old 
Ricci Palace, on the Corso, possessing the tower associated 
with her turbulent ancestor Uguccione, but in a palace 
called the Riccardi, which had come later to be owned by 
the family, and had very different associations. It was a house 
in which another saint had died: St Juliana Falconieri, 
foundress of the Mantellate of Florence, and sister to St 
Alexis Falconieri, one of the Seven Founders of the Ser- 
vite Order. It stood close by their church of the Annun- 
ziata, in the Piazza of that name, and was originally called 
the Palazzo Griffoni; whilst in later times it has been again 
re-named, and is called the Mannelli Palace. Here St Juli 
ana had established, about 1287, the first house of con 
ventual Third Order Servite Sisters; which community she 
afterwards joined herself and lived in until her death. 

The great characteristic of little Alessandrina as the 
child came to be called in her own family is said to have 
been, even from babyhood, an exceedingly sweet serenity, 
which she possessed to a degree felt by her friends and re 
lations to be beyond mere nature, and the account of which 
reminds one of the descriptions given of Saint Rose of 
Lima in her childhood. It developed into a certain calm 
recollectedness of manner, accompanied by little graceful 
childlike acts and habits all tending to show a strong in 
clination to piety, which seemed to bear witness to extra 
ordinary divine workings going on within the opening 
soul. One of her historians f even says that she forestalled 
as a tiny child her devotion for that which was after 
wards to become the great object of her love and the sub 
ject of her ecstasies, by prayers and actions in honour ot 

* That is, she is the first named in genealogical tables; hut others may have died first, 
as she was not born till eight years after her parents marriage. 
t Sandrini, lib. I, cap. i. 



4 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

our Lord s Passion. "It was a marvellous thing," says her 
devoted biographer, "to see so small a child employing her 
thoughts on what her tongue could barely stammer forth; 
and to find that she showed herself, by transports of love, the 
true daughter of Jesus Crucified, even before she possessed 
the power of giving public and complete proof of it." 

It is also held for certain by some of her biographers 
that God employed the visible intervention of a heavenly 
messenger in her spiritual formation, during her very 
earliest years: namely, that of her own angel guardian.* 
He is believed to have appeared to her even in her cradle; 
and to have performed, in the matter of heavenly things, 
the office that is ordinarily that of a mother, by awakening 
and guiding her infant mind and senses, so that they should 
be directed towards prayer, and contemplation of divine 
mysteries, from the very beginning. 

The little girl grew up beloved of God and man. All 
those of her own family who daily witnessed, in her 
conduct, the effects of those wonderful graces that were 
hidden from their own sight, felt the deepest respect and 
admiration for the child whose ways seemed to breathe an 
atmosphere which was not that of earth. Her mother, es 
pecially, so long as she lived, felt convinced though respect 
for the handiwork of the Most High kept her silent on 
the subject of the future eminent sanctity of her child. 
But this mother, who appears from the little we hear of 
her to have been truly worthy of her daughter, was not to 
witness on earth that daughter s development. She died 
while Alessandrina was still quite a small child ; and when 
the latter was between four and five years old, Pierfran- 
cesco took to himself the second wife who was destined to 
act the part of mother to the future saint. This step-mother 
was also a woman of high birth. Her name was Fiammetta 
da Diacceto ; and she was daughter to that Francesco da 
Diacceto to whom Marsilio Ficino, when dying, recom 
mended Plato s philosophy ; whilst her brother was the 
unfortunate Jacopo who was beheaded in the conspiracy 
against Giulio de Medici. 

* Compendia della vita di B, Caterina t ch. i, p. 3. (See Appendix.) 



AND HER COMMUNITY 5 

This second marriage of her father s gave Alessandrina 
four brothers and five sisters. The eldest brother, Giovan- 
batisto, whilst quite young, became a Dominican in the 
Convent of San Marco, where he had the name of Fra 
Timoteo de Ricci : a name which had already been made 
honourable in the Order by the virtues of his uncle, a 
brother of Pierfrancesco, and to which he added lustre 
by his own holiness. The second brother, Francesco, died 
at Rome as a youth ; the third, Roberto, took up the 
family profession, and eventually founded the flourishing 
"Ricci Bank" in Lyons; whilst the youngest, Vincenzio, 
remained in Florence, where he was in favour with the 
Medici. He attained to the highest magisterial offices, and 
had the posthumous glory of being great-grandfather to 
the celebrated Bishop Scipio de Ricci.* Of the five sisters, 
one named Catherine died as a child, whilst the other 
four all became nuns at the monastery of Prato, in turn. 

Fiammetta had nothing whatever of the traditional 
step-mother about her, but filled the place of a true mother 
with the greatest tact and delicacy to her husband s children. 
Her character was no less noble than her birth ; and, with 
the mental sagacity, upright judgement and warmly gene 
rous heart that belonged to her, she very quickly learned 
to value the treasure that she found entrusted to her in the 
person of her small step-daughter. As she watched this child 
developing before her eyes, in all her modest grace giv 
ing not the least sign of vanity in speech, in manners, or 
in dress showing not the smallest inclination to egotism 
or self-will always humble, gentle, and quick to fulfil 
everything required of her Fiammetta was enchanted. 
Her affection for the little girl soon reached the point of 
actual respect ; and she took to treating her with the kind 
of veneration that one shows to holy things and to souls 
consecrated to God. It is refreshing to read for once of an 
eminent virgin saint treated by her elders, in her youth, 
with delicate consideration, instead of with that strange 
want of sympathy (to give it a mild name) which one so 

* Bishop of Pistojn and Prato in the i8th century. He got into trouble for heretical 
doctrine, but was reconciled before he died. 



6 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

often finds shown to their daughters by mothers of saintly 
children. 

But all this was only a first revelation to the noble- 
hearted step-mother, who was to receive in time many 
more, as to the respect and honour due to her young 
charge. Alessandrina s humility made her so ingenious in 
hiding her own merits, that she lived for a long time 
under the close observation of her second mother before 
the latter found out anything about her secret mortifica 
tions. At last, thinking once that she had not seen her take 

j O 

any food for a whole day, Fiammetta determined to watch 
her step-child in this matter more closely than she had 
hitherto done ; and the result was the discovery that it was 
not only her habit to keep prolonged fasts, but to keep 
them in a perfectly calm and natural manner which be 
trayed a most uncommon strength of soul or rather, as 
the writer of an anonymous life of the saint remarks, 
"which proved that the love of God bestowed on her, as 
compensation for her courage, a superabundance of spiri 
tual food." The sight of such Christian fortitude in a little 
girl of about seven years old not only touched Fiammetta s 
heart with greater tenderness than ever for the child, but 
made her feel strongly convinced that a sanctity built on 
such a deep and solid foundation as this must be destined 
by God to reach very great proportions. Accordingly, she 
set herself to study the mind and soul of Alessandrina 
more and more carefully, and was rewarded by the con 
stant discovery of fresh treasures of purity and holiness 
hidden therein. It is said that her admiration of the child s 
virtue, and conviction of her future greatness, became so 
overpowering that she could not keep silence about them, 
but frequently spoke to others in an almost prophetic tone 
of her step-daughter s future destiny \ and at last declared 
that "instead of being herself appointed to act the part of 
mother to this child, it was the child who had become her 
teacher and mistress in virtue : her refuge and comfort in 
the griefs and troubles of life."* 

:;: Sandrini, lib. I, cap. i, p. 3. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 



CHAPTER II 

Alessandrina s Vocation Her stay at Monticelli Return to her father s 
house Search for a Convent after her own heart 

THE precocious development of Alessandrina s soul in a par 
ticular direction seemed a clear indication of the line that 
her spirituality was destined to take. Her strong bent to 
wards the interior life, her love of solitary communing with 
God, and the pain and embarrassment that she always felt 
in company betrayed at times by a kind of gentle melan 
choly in her conversation all pointed to her having no 
vocation for the labours and excitements of an active career. 
She was clearly called to retreat and contemplative prayer 
in the shelter of the cloister. 

Given up to divine love, and instructed, as we have 
seen, by the Holy Spirit, she began before long to find 
even the sanctuary of her father s house, where from her 
cradle upwards she had received so much light and guid 
ance, insufficient for her need of retirement. Very early she 
sighed for " the wings of a dove, that she might fly away 
and be at rest " in the solitude and enclosure of a monas 
tery ; and she planned her desired flight with a calmness 
and deliberation suited to her character. She knew very 
well that, child as she was, she could no more expect to be 
received in any community as a Religious at her age than 
St Catherine of Siena or St Teresa could have gained their 
parents consent for carrying out their enthusiastic childish 
dreams of going forth to a hermitage or a desert. But con 
vents in Florence opened their doors to others than nuns, 
since most of them served as the ordinary places of educa 
tion for girls. So Alessandrina began importuning her father 
to let her enter a cloister in the capacity of a pupil, with 
out betraying her further private desires. Her father, how 
ever, was in no hurry to part with a child who was such 
a treasure at home, so it took her some time to get her own 



8 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

way ; and she only did so at last by the help of her "second 
mother," whom she persuaded to take her part and to over 
come her father s resistance.* Fiammetta was helped in this 
task by the unexpected intervention of Alessandrina s aunt, 
Lodovica de Ricci, Pierfrancesco s sister, who was abbess of 
a Benedictine monastery called San Pietro de Monticelli. 
Alessandrina was sometimes taken when her parents went 
to visit this aunt at her convent, and Lodovica, conceiving 
a great desire to have the little girl in her keeping, begged 
her brother to entrust his daughter to her care for a time. 
Finding his sister s suggestion coincide so exactly with his 
child s earnest wishes, and reflecting also that Alessandrina 
would gain great advantages from the fashionable educa 
tion given to girls of high rank in this convent, Pierfran- 
cesco agreed, and sent her there. 

San Pietro de Monticelli was one of the oldest and 
most respected Benedictine houses in Florence. Though 
not free from the then almost universal taint of monastic 
relaxation, it was nevertheless in certain respects regular 
and devout ; and amongst other venerable pious traditions, 
it specially cherished a devotion to the mysteries of our 
Lord s Passion. This devotion, as we shall see, besides 
winning Alessandrina s heart during her stay at Monti 
celli, became the means of betraying the advanced degree 
of sanctity that she had already reached. 

In the convent church, facing the nuns choir, there 
was a large picture, which represented our Lord on the 
Cross with such splendour and reality that it deeply moved 
the souls of all who looked upon it, and hence had be 
come an object of most tender and earnest devotion. From 
the moment of Alessandrina s first introduction to this 
painting, it took such a passionate hold of her that she 
seemed to make her home at its feet i she could withdraw 
neither her eyes nor her heart from it. On her knees, with 
her gaze fixed on that adored face so filled with grief, each 
act of the bleeding drama of the Redemption appeared to 
her reflected thereon. So deep was the impression made 
upon her that its effect was wont to last long after she had 

* Vita Anonima, cap. i, p. 4. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 9 

come away from the picture ; and she would speak of it 
with all the vividness and tender feeling of one who had 
been witness of an actual scene that she had just left. In 
vain did they try to induce her, as a relief from such 
thoughts, to spend part of her recreation in the games and 
other amusements of her school companions. Out of pure 
docility and obligingness she would smilingly join for a 
time in what pleased others, though it gave no pleasure to 
her ; but she always took the first opportunity of slipping 
away to return where her heart called her, and to take up 
her place again at the foot of her "crucifix" as the pic 
ture is called by her biographers, though a painting. She 
used to hide herself beneath a curtain that hung over the 
choir grille^ so as to be alone, and unseen by all but Him 
on whose image she was gazing ; and, when sometimes 
found there after some hours absence, it was generally 
with her face bathed in tears. 

Her aunt, the abbess, finding her so devoted to the 
crucifix, carefully taught her a certain pious practice that 
was in use amongst the most fervent sisters of the con 
vent. This consisted in saying the Lord s Prayer five times, 
meditating with each Pater on one of the chief mysteries 
of the Passion namely, on the Agony of Jesus and His 
seizing in the Garden of Gethsemane, His Scourging, 
His Crowning with thorns, His carrying of the Cross, 
and His Crucifixion and Entombment. The learning of 
this devotion was a great boon to our young saint; and 
her practice of it soon became accompanied by a wonderful 
and moving phenomenon. Whilst engaged in the exercise, 
she so completely identified herself with the sufferings of 
Jesus Christ as to become a living representation of them. 
During the prayer for the first mystery, she was seen, to 
begin with, on her knees her hands raised to heaven, and 
her face pale and agonized ; and afterwards with her arms 
held tightly to her breast, in a grave and dignified manner, 
as representing Christ bound in Gethsemane. At the second 
mystery she stood upright and immovable, her right hand 
clasping her shoulder, in imitation of Jesus fastened to the 
pillar of the flagellation and so with the rest ; always 



io ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

suiting her movements to the scenes of our divine Re 
deemer s sufferings.* 

The sight of the little girl thus vividly realizing by the 
sheer force of loving sympathy the sacrifice of the divine 
Victim, was overpoweringly touching to all who happened 
to behold it ; and tradition says that our Lord Himself 
sometimes worked a wonder in testimony of His own 
tenderness for His child-imitator, by making the crucifix 
appear to live on the canvas and to speak words of loving 
acknowledgement in return for her devotion. The con 
sequence of these supernatural incidents forerunners of 
yet greater marvels to come later in the saint s life was 
that this picture became renowned, first throughout the 
community and afterwards beyond it, as Sandrinas Crucifix ; 
and that it was eventually hung in a more public place for 
the people s veneration : finally being taken to the " chapel 
of St Antoninus " (Archbishop of Florence in the preced 
ing century, and a Dominican), where it still remains for 
the homage of the faithful. 

All these favours received, and special tendencies of 

devotion gratified, in the Monticelli Convent, would 

. 11 

naturally point to Alessandrina s finding her ultimate 

vocation there : yet it did not turn out so ; and the 
girl s decision in spite of natural and supernatural at 
tractions to it and of great affection shown her by its 
inhabitants not to become a member of this community, 
is one of the most striking instances given in her bio 
graphies of both the precocity of her judgement and the 
clearness and strength of her early supernatural inspira 
tions. She appears to have been specially called, not only 
to become herself a perfect model of the Religious life, 
but to be, even in her earliest youth, an instrument in 
the hands of God for warning and putting to shame those 
who lived in a manner not fully corresponding to their 
high vocation. The monastic spirit just at this period was 
at a very low ebb : so much so, that a community which 
kept up some vestiges of regular observance, and added 
to them a few pious practices, was counted by many very 

* Vita, etc., da Serafino Razzi, lib. II, cap. i. 



AND HER COMMUNITY n 

virtuous people to be setting an example of true evangeli 
cal perfection. Nothing could have been more calculated to 
keep down the standard of Religious life than this high 
esteem in which such convents were held by the world, 
and the consequent fact that they attracted many subjects. 
It was, therefore, both a much-needed and a fully-deserved 
chastisement and humiliation for one of these decayed 
institutions to be rejected by the wisdom and disdain of 
a mere child ; and this was what happened to the Monas 
tery of Monticelli. Alessandrina, whilst adopting, as we 
have seen, whatever devout practices she found there, ap 
pears to have entered her aunt s convent with an ideal 
already formed of what Religious life should be, which 
was very far from rinding its fulfilment in the Benedictine 
nuns whom she had now to obey as her teachers and su 
periors. Instead of such virtues as she had dreamt of for 
the inhabitants of a cloister, and the spouses of a crucified 
Lord in place of utter abnegation, of disinterested 
charity, of a spirit of humility and mortification she 
saw around her only lukewarm virtues, accompanied by 
glaring imperfections and acts of narrow-minded selfish 
ness such as disputes amongst Religious over trifles, a 
love of possession that sought for gratification in trivial 
objects, and a generally worldly spirit which plainly showed 
how the evangelical standard had degenerated in the com 
munity. Such a state of things was enough to make her 
decide upon never choosing this monastery for her conse 
cration to God ; but, having taken this resolution, she 
tried in every possible way to lessen the pain that she 
knew her decision must give to her aunt and the other 
nuns. Whilst unable to help condemning the spirit of the 
community, she was full of tenderness for its individual 
members, feeling that they were not fully responsible for 
a situation which they had not themselves brought about, 
and which some of them were perhaps hardly conscious of. 
Moreover, besides the respect she felt for the personal vir 
tues of many amongst them, Alessandrina had too noble 
and loving a heart not to feel greatly touched by, and very 
grateful for, the tender care and real devotion that had 



12 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

been shown to her in the convent, and the earnest desire 
and hope which she knew the nuns had felt that she might 
take their habit and remain under their roof. All these 
motives, as well as a naturally sympathetic character which 
made her feel other people s griefs keenly, caused her to 
wish very much that she might have spared them the 
trouble of her departure, which she instinctively knew 
would be felt by them as a humiliation to the monastery, 
and perhaps even as an unfair action on her part. The only 
plan she could think of, when she found herself obliged to 
give some account of her intentions, was to shelter herself, 
so to speak, behind the authority of God who had made 
known His special will in the matter to her; and Sandrini 
tells us that, without directly mentioning their community, 
she managed delicately to explain " that God had put it 
into her heart to enter a house where strictly primitive 
observance was kept, and where she would be sure of rind 
ing perfect peace in the practice of most exact poverty"; 
and that, having done this, she redoubled the tenderness 
and trustfulness of her ways with the nuns, to show them 
that there was absolutely nothing personal in her resolution. 

However, before she had to leave the monastery, an 
occurrence took place which brought her true feelings 
much more plainly to light, though still indirectly, and 
in a way that could only edify her friends. The story of 
this incident in the saint s early life is specially interesting, 
apart from its connection with her, as an illustration of one 
particular form taken by conventual decadence in her day. 

An old nun at Monticelli died ; and in her cell was 
found a book of devotion adorned with rich illuminations, 
and with those graceful little paintings introduced by me 
diaeval art, which perfected during the Renaissance had 
developed into chef-d" ceuvres of good taste as well as of 
piety. Books of this kind perfectly legitimate objects of 
satisfaction to pious people in the world had become, in 
the universal lowering of the true Religious spirit, a veri 
table snare and source of abuses in monasteries of women. 
That ardent and enlightened promoter of Religious reform 
at the end of the fifteenth century Girolamo Savonarola 



AND HER COMMUNITY 13 

had severely stigmatized this abuse amongst others, not 
only in his own Convent of San Marco in Florence, but 
in numerous other houses of both men and women of 
various Orders. 

He denounced it as an encroachment on the true spirit 
of poverty, and a cause of vain and curious research, intro 
ducing a secular and worldly spirit amongst the spouses 
of Jesus Christ. The Annee Dominicaine (vol. 1861-2, 
p. 607) gives the following Verbatim extract from a letter 
of Savonarola s to the Countess of Mirandola, which both 
details the kind of abuses in vogue, and expresses in 
vigorous terms his strong feeling on the subject. "In 
leaving the world," he says, speaking of Religious, "they 
have made great sacrifices ; then, when they have hardly 
entered the state of Religion, they begin attaching them 
selves to all sorts of trivialities to a cell, to a new gar 
ment, to a fine breviary, to a pair of scissors or a knife, 
and so forth. All this is an obstacle to purity of heart ; 
it causes inward disturbance; and they live in the cloister 
like barren trees in a garden. Wretched weakness of hu 
man nature ! They have given up gold and silver, and now 
they cling to sand and mud." Then, going on to personal 
direction, he exhorts her to such heroic perfection as 
this : " In the world, your dress and adornments put 
those of your attendants into the shade, therefore in the 
cloister you should wear the very poorest habit; for, in 
the warfare of Jesus Christ, you ought to surpass those 
whom you would have tried to surpass in the warfare of 
the world. You must, then, have neither fine , nor constantly- 
renewed^ clothes, nor books richly illuminated, nor a magnificent 
breviary, nor any objects of lvalue. Have a simple breviary, 
with no gilding, without silk ribbons, without illumina 
tions, and with a marker of leather or thread." 

One of the books thus referred to, then, was that left 
in her cell by the old nun in question ; and it immediately 
became an object of desire to two young Religious, who 
both equally wanted it as a piece of personal property, and 
between whom it gave rise to stormy disputes followed by 
bitter resentment. Alessandrina could not see such a state 



i 4 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

of things without a feeling of keen sorrow ; and (as San- 
drini tells the story) she "went apart, and thus breathed 
forth her complaints to God c ls it possible that the 
spouse of Christ, who is all gentleness and humility, 
should give entrance in this way to anger and bitterness ? 
Oh, good Jesus, where is poverty of spirit, death of self, 
separation from all creatures, to be found? Thou hadst 
neither home nor shelter in life, and in death Thou wast 
so poor that a borrowed shroud was thy grave-cloth. And 
now here are holy virgins, consecrated to Thee the well- 
beloved of Thy Heart quarrelling with each other over 
a few sheets of paper ! What folly, for the sake of a worth 
less little book, to risk the danger of having one s name 
struck out of the Book of Life for ever ! " * 

As Alessandrina, pacing the cloister, was thus grieving 
and weeping the while she was discovered by the nun 
who was mistress of the school, and who both comforted 
the child and gradually drew from her the cause of her 
grief. She seems to have been most tender and kind over 
the matter, in spite of the plainness with which her little 
pupil spoke of the shock she had received from the quarrel 
she had witnessed, and of her determination to go where 
true charity and poverty of spirit would make such things 
impossible. Her mistress s tenderness, however, in nowise 
shook the young saint s firmness, though she again tried 
to smooth matters over as far as possible by attributing 
her resolution to a call from God which she could not 
resist ; and when her aunt, having heard from the mistress 
what had happened, sent for her, she gave her reasons for 
having finally decided to leave Monticelli with the greatest 
modesty and respect, but still with unmoved resolution ; 
so that the abbess could no longer hesitate to believe that 
a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost was dictating to 
her niece what she must do. Lodovica then acted with 
real generosity : she humbly adored almighty God s de 
signs on this child ; made up her mind to the sacrifice of 
resigning all hopes about keeping her in the community ; 
and let her sister-in-law, Fiammetta, know what Alessan- 

* Sandrini, lib. II, cap, ii, p. 7. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 15 

drina s intentions were, that she might come and fetch her 
away from the abbey. The little girl parted from the nuns 
who had been so good to her, and whom she loved most 
sincerely, with genuine grief, and with the frank declara 
tion that nothing but what she knew to be the will of 
God could have separated her from them. This declara 
tion was corroborated by her attitude towards the nuns of 
Monticelli through the whole of her life. She never her 
self betrayed any of the serious reasons that had caused 
her departure, and never spoke of any things or persons 
belonging to the convent except in terms of affection and 
reverence. 

When she got home again, Alessandrina at once took 
up the position of an intending candidate for the Religious 
life : not so much in words as by her whole behaviour. 
She managed to arrange her time so as to live as nearly as 
possible by conventual hours, making her own room into 
an oratory, and spending her days and the best part of her 
nights there, in quiet and prayer. Her father, delighted to 
have her back, humoured his child s tastes for solitude and 
monastic ways, never thinking of having to give his con 
sent to anything definite. In fact, so far was he from tak 
ing the matter seriously that he looked forward, when the 
right time should come, to finding some suitable husband 
for her amongst the good Florentine families, so as to keep 
her always near him. He is said to have been specially de 
voted to this child, not only because of her great personal 
charms, but because of her being the only daughter left to 
him by his first wife, and very like her. 

This strict and hermit-like way of life appears in no 
wise to have affected the relations of Alessandrina with the 
family and household, which remained as pleasant and 
affectionate as they had been before she left home for 
Monticelli. She was as much and as genuinely interested 
in other people s concerns as ever ; took the greatest care 
to arrange her times of devotion, so as to interfere 
with no domestic arrangements ; was so delightful with 
her young brothers that they would fain have had her 
always with them ; and, in short, acted not merely with 



1 6 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

perfect unselfishness, but with a degree of tact and pru 
dence in her whole intercourse with others that astonishes 
one to read of in a girl of her still quite tender years. 
For her father she seems to have had as great an affection 
as he had for her ; and a quaint story is told of one means 
that she took of showing it during this time. Pierfrancesco 
at last began rather to take fright at his little daughter s 
persistence in her exactly religious and retired life, and 
thought that perhaps he could cure her of such ways by 
depriving her of the means of solitude. Accordingly, on 
the excuse of having her nearer to him, he made her give 
up the room that had been appropriated to her use in 
a distant and quiet part of the Ricci palace, and had one 
arranged for her next to his own, in the most bustling 
and fully occupied part. Alessandrina made not the 
slightest complaint or fuss at the change, but went calmly 
on her usual way as far as her own practices were 
concerned ; only she made use of the close neighbourhood 
to her father to see what she could do to show her love 
for him. She soon discovered what he probably did so 
quietly that his children had hitherto known nothing of it: 
that public and private business compelled the statesman 
and householder to get up extremely early, about 3 o clock 
in the morning. As soon as she found this out, Alessan 
drina at once adopted the habit of rising herself at this 
hour, slipping quietly into her father s room, and first 
kneeling for his blessing putting all his things ready for 
him, and waiting upon him, in every way that a child 
could, as if she had been his servant, until he dismissed 
her with a second blessing. Then she would go back to 
her own room, and spend the rest of the early morning 
hours in prayer, entreating her Father in heaven, with 
ever-increasing earnestness, to help her in the fulfilment of 
her vocation and to show her the convent destined for her. 
Besides praying about it, however, she took all human 
means within her reach for finding the right place ; and in 
this search she got her ever-devoted "second mother" to 
help her. Fiammetta managed to get introductions to all 
the chief convents in Florence, and took her step-daughter 



AND HER COMMUNITY 17 

with her to visit them, the latter constantly hoping to find 
the evangelical perfection that she sighed for fully practised 
in some of them. But the search proved vain : ruins and 
shadows of the past were all she found. The spirit of the 
world had taken complete possession of those devoted by 
profession to the highest life, and had dragged them down 
in proportion to the height of their calling. In some cases 
Alessandrina, indeed, came across a state of things by com 
parison of which the monastery of Monticelli must have 
seemed a model community. Certain nuns of that time, 
Sandrini tells us belonging to Orders whose rule and consti 
tutions placed them behind grilles in strict enclosure, there 
to lead hidden lives of prayer had persuaded themselves 
that they could best sanctify themselves by sanctifying 
others, in a manner little dreamt of indeed by their 
founders! This means consisted in giving "pious re 
presentations" of the Gospel History, or of the "acts" of 
saints and martyrs in other words, by turning themselves 
into a troupe of pious actresses, who performed mystery or 
miracle plays within the convent walls, and invited all their 
secular friends to come and see them. Alessandrina, with her 
step-mother, was one day bidden to such a festivity, at a 
monastery in high renown with the Florentines of what 
Order we are not told. She went, of course, expecting to 
see something of a religious and edifying description such 
as nuns might harmlessly represent, having heard no 
details of such performances, but only a talk of "pious 
spectacles." The astonishment and grief of a girl with such 
ideals as she had we may imagine, when we find that in 
the performance she witnessed the nuns had discarded their 
habits and dressed up in secular men s and women s clothes, 
of great splendour; whilst they played their parts so truly 
to the life as to be little in harmony with Religious mo 
desty. It is not to be wondered at that the holy young 
visitor was seized with a sudden pain and sorrow at the 
sight, so sharp that she could not quite restrain herself, 
but gave vent to her trouble in only half-suppressed sounds 
of grief and aversion. 

The shock she received on this occasion, however, was 



1 8 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

the cause both of a great spiritual consolation, and of her 
receiving for the first time a supernatural gift which was 
often granted to her in after life that of being able to 
read the souls of others. As she was grieving inwardly 
over the spectacle that had so startled her as being a dis 
grace to the Religious state, and also over the sad con 
dition of those who were dragged back to the world and 
its dano-ers by taking part in such a display, our Lord 
Himself vouchsafed to make known to her by some in 
ward vision that He was grieving with her; and at the 
same time He showed her the state of certain among the 
souls of the Religious who were performing the play. By 
this revelation, Alessandrina was made to understand that 
Jesus Christ meant to encourage her in the endeavour to 
restore the honour of His spouses in the Church. 

After this memorable scene, she tried harder than ever 
to find a convent in Florence where she could take final 
refuge from the world, but still without success. She had 
to go further afield for what she wanted. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 19 



CHAPTER III 

Alessandrina s stay at the Villa San Paolo near Prato She becomes 
acquainted with San Vincenzio s Monastery by means of two beg 
ging sisters Gets her father s consent to a few days visit there 

Her compulsory return to Florence Where she falls ill Her 

miraculous cure Her final entry into San Vincenzio s 

SOME hours walk from Florence, towards the north, lies 
one of the most beautiful spots in Tuscany. It consists of 
a vast plain, reaching from the banks of the Arno, which 
here bathes the foot of Fiesole s mountains, to the hills of 
Pistoja, where the Ombrone takes its rise. The fertile soil, 
the genial air, the clear sky, the beautiful and varied 
scenery all combine to make this plain one of the plea- 
santest abodes in the world. Nearly in the centre of it, 
on the river Bizencio, stands the little town of Prato so 
named from the beautiful meadow which forms its site. 
In and around this place the rich families of Florence vied 
with one another in acquiring land and building villas, so 
attractive was the country ; and the Ricci family had, from 
time immemorial, possessed a fine estate there, which went 
by the name of San Paolo s Farm. At the time we are speak 
ing of, Pierfrancesco went to stay at Prato with his whole 
family, when (as was usual, on account of his well-known 
charity) all the poor of the neighbourhood soon took to 
making their appearance at the house. One day, amongst 
these, there appeared two humble Religious women, lead 
ing a donkey to carry the gifts in kind which were the 
usual alms they received. Alessandrina, having seen them 
at a distance, ran eagerly to meet them ; and, enchanted 
with a modest, gentle and devoutly recollected manner in 
them, which she had not before come across in any Reli 
gious, she begged her father to let them stay at San Paolo s 
for a few days, to which he gladly agreed. 

She found that they were two lay-sisters from San 



20 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

Vincenzio a convent, recently founded at Prato in the 
spirit of true monastic traditions, where the constantly 
increasing fervour practised by its inhabitants was most 
helpful and edifying to souls. The young saint, we are 
told, acting still with a prudence that one marvels at in 
one so young, observed the sisters most carefully and 
continuously whilst they were in her father s villa, to 
make sure that their daily conduct carried out the first im 
pression they had given her. Finding all that she saw of 
their private life the simplicity of their manners, their 
silence, recollection, fervour in prayer, and general religi 
ous deportment such as to make her deeply respect them, 
she went further, and began to talk to them freely, open 
ing out all her own ideals of the monastic state, and ask 
ing them innumerable questions about their own rule and 
community. She spoke to them, moreover, of her cherished 
devotions to the Passion of our Lord, the Blessed Virgin, 
and the Holy Eucharist, and expressed her longing for 
frequent communion, that she might find out their feel 
ings. In short, she put these two lay-sisters, in her girlishly 
earnest way, through as close and careful an examination 
as if she had been a judge questioning witnesses. Little did 
the humble sisters guess, as they answered her many in 
quiries about their way of life, that on their answers was to 
depend the destiny of a saint and the future renown of 
their monastery ! 

The result of their replies was so to rejoice Alessan- 
drina s heart, causing her to feel sure that here at last she 
had discovered the full realization of the perfect ideal of Re 
ligious life, as to make her (according to Sandrini) cry out 
one day in irrepressible thankfulness : " God be praised ! 
here is the place He has prepared for me ; here is the place 
where I shall fight to the end ; here shall I find the altar 
of my sacrifice ! It is at San Vincenzio s that I am to offer 
myself as a holocaust to my beloved Redeemer!" 

The girl s mind being once made up upon this point, 
her own idea was to act at once on her new-found convic 
tion, and to return with the lay-sisters to their convent in 
Prato. She knew, of course, that there might be some 



AND HER COMMUNITY 21 

difficulty in getting her father s consent to this course, 
and, before actually asking his leave to go, spoke enthusi 
astically to her brothers, her step-mother, and all other 
members of the household, about her delight in all she 
had heard of San Vincenzio s, and her certainty that God 
called her to consecrate her life to Him in that monastery. 
She hoped that hearing first of her wish indirectly might 
soften the matter somewhat to Pierfrancesco, and incline 
him to be lenient. Her innocent diplomacy, however, 
failed ; for when at last she made up her mind to speak 
directly to him, and went to throw herself at his feet with 
her request that she might accompany the sisters, she 
found him immovable. He had made up his mind be 
forehand, and, for sole answer to her petition, formally 
declared that he would listen to no more proposals of the 
kind, and forbade his daughter ever again to open her lips 
on the subject. The poor child was completely crushed by 
this inexorable declaration ; and, as might be expected, its 
final result was the hasty departure of the sisters from 
San Paolo. Left alone, Alessandrina could only rest all 
her hopes on God Himself, and on the fervent prayers 
that she knew they would offer at the convent. 

Naturally, the first thing that the two lay-sisters did on 
getting home was to give an account of the treasure which 
they thought Providence had in store for them in the Ricci 
family. The nuns full of fervour, and more interested in 
the prospect of so holy a postulant than in the question of 
what supplies their " begging sisters " might have brought 
them bestirred themselves at once to see what they could 
do to promote the forwarding of Alessandrina s projects. 
Strangely enough, the spiritual director of their community 
for the time being was own brother to Pierfrancesco : 
Fra Timoteo de Ricci, a friar from the celebrated Domini 
can Monastery of San Marco in Florence, and a man highly 
commendable for his own virtues. To him the community 
naturally turned for help in this matter concerning his 
niece ; but he was at first by no means very much inclined 
to move in it, out of consideration for his brother, whose 
intense affection for Alessandrina he well knew. However, 



22 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

having paid some visits himself to the Villa San Paolo, he 
found out by personal intercourse with her what were the 
real feelings, and the truly wonderful dispositions, of the 
child ; and this discovery seems to have given him scruples 
about keeping silence, lest he should be really opposing the 
will of God if he did not do his best to plead his niece s 
health with her father. He began pleading it, accordingly, 
with warmth ; but his interference was not well received, 
and his brother ended by desiring " that he would cease 
meddling with his family affairs," and intimating that his 
visits were no longer welcome. Thus rebuffed, Fra Timoteo 
could only tell his spiritual daughters that they were not 
likely at present to overcome the objections of a father 
whose affections were so intensely set on his child, and 
that much time and unusual grace would be needed to 
bring about the desired end. The nuns, unwilling to be so 
easily defeated, bethought themselves of another ambassador 
in the person of their prioress, who appears to have been 
a woman equally distinguished by birth, virtues, and un 
usually charming and courtly manners, Margherita di 
Bardo by name. This lady they sent, as a delegate from 
the community, to call on Pierfrancesco at his villa, and 
to beg that he would grant them at least the pleasure of a 
visit from his beloved Alessandrina. There was nothing, it 
should be stated, inconsistent with their Religious spirit 
in this expedition of the prioress ; for, though living in 
enclosure, the community, having only the Third Order 
Rule, were at this time at liberty to go outside the con 
vent when necessary. Sister Margherita was received at 
San Paolo with all the honour and attention due to her ; 
and when her host heard this dignified and gracious dame 
begging, as a personal favour, for the desired permission, 
he could not, if only out of mere courtesy to the prioress, 
well refuse it ; besides which, there was the possibility that 
the result of a visit to San Vincenzio might be at least the 
postponement of the dreaded misfortune. He granted leave, 
therefore, with a good grace ; but made it an express condi 
tion that his daughter s stay in the convent should not ex 
ceed ten days. She took this unhoped-for permission as a 




u 



AND HER COMMUNITY 23 

sign that Providence was about to grant the fulfilment of 
all her projects and, thanking God earnestly, went off re 
joicing with the prioress. 

According to the custom of the house, Alessandrina, 
on arriving, was received by the whole community as 
sembled in choir, where all the nuns in turn gave her the 
kiss of peace. A story is told that as the little visitor 
crossed the threshold of the holy place, a nun who had 
for some time been suffering from an infirmity that affected 
her mind by weakening it, was suddenly aroused, filled 
with the spirit of God, and cried aloud : " Here comes 
our little superior ! Here is the little mistress of our souls, 
and spiritual guide ! " These words, coming from so un 
expected a quarter, are said to have struck all present as 
uttered with prophetic inspiration ; and as a matter of fact 
they did turn out to contain a true prophecy; for their 
young subject lived to become a teacher, an eminent guide 
to souls in the spiritual path, and an accomplished model 
of all monastic virtues, not to that convent only, but to 
many others, throughout Tuscany and all Italy. 

However, there were to be hindrances yet to the ful 
filment of her longings. She soon found herself so per 
fectly happy amongst the sisters of San Vincenzio, where 
her ideal of contemplation and Religious life seemed ful 
filled in such a way as to satisfy all her aspirations, that 
she felt like a wanderer come home at last ; and when, at 
the end of the appointed ten days, one of her brothers was 
sent to fetch her back, she found herself as might have 
been expected utterly unable to leave a place of which 
she already appeared to have become a part. To tear her 
self away from the community, at least with her own good 
will, had become practically an impossibility; and she told 
her brother that she could not return to family life, for she 
belonged henceforth to this cloister, where she felt sure 
that God Himself had led her. She entreated him to get 
her father s forgiveness if she disobeyed him on this one 
point, which concerned God s own choice for her. The 
brother reluctantly went home, and executed her commis 
sion ; but Pierfrancesco was not to be so easily softened 



24 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

He appears to have looked at the whole thing as a plot 
against him, and came in person to the convent, furiously 
angry and determined to enforce obedience to his orders, 
even by violent measures if necessary. But if the father 
was determined on his side, the daughter was equally so 
on hers, though in a calmer way ; and, in the end, her 
gently obstinate resolve to keep to her decision of remain 
ing at San Vincenzio, together with the spiritual reasons 
she put forward child as she was to support it, had 
their effect. Her father gave in to her, at least for the time 
being. He renounced all idea of carrying her home by 
force, and professed himself convinced by her argu 
ments only, he said, before being shut up for good 
in the cloister, she must just come back home with him 
for a few days, to see and bid farewell to the rest of the 
family. At first Alessandrina refused even this, but here 
she found her uncle Timoteo, the prioress, and all the 
community, against her ; so, most unwillingly, she had to 
yield, and returned though in tears to San Paolo, hav 
ing first made her father solemnly promise that he would 
not keep her there for more than ten days. This solemn 
promise, however, Pierfrancesco evidently did not con 
sider binding. He appears to have had some idea that, 
seeing how very young she still was, her vocation might 
possibly after all be only a fancied one, and that he was 
justified in doing all he could to turn her away from the 
thought before finally giving her up. Accordingly, he first 
took the whole family back from the neighbourhood of 
Prato, to their palace in Florence, where Alessandrina 
found herself surrounded by numerous relations and 
friends who petted and made much of her, and in the 
midst of various diversions and changes of scene which it 
was hoped might drive San Vincenzio out of her head. 
Then, when she entreated him to keep his word and let 
her go back, he made one pretext after another mostly 
founded on his own unconquerable grief at the thought 
of losing her for delay. He treated her with the greatest 
possible love and tenderness, never professing an inten 
tion of breaking his word eventually, nor uttering a sylla- 



AND HER COMMUNITY 25 

ble of reproach or anger again, but simply "putting 
off" time after time. 

This went on for so long (though exactly how long 
we are not told) that at last the state of things became too 
much for the poor child, who had at first struggled 
bravely against the disappointment and had kept up her 
usual brightness with all around her. She fell, first, into 
a state of most unnatural melancholy, and then into one 
of such bad health that all her friends were terribly 
frightened, and believed that she was dying of con 
sumption. Everybody belonging to her, except the one 
person chiefly concerned, who was the actual cause of 
it, knew that the illness was nothing but a kind of 
nostalgia a longing, like that of the exile who craves 
for his country, for the home of her soul, from which 
she was being kept by too strong a human love. Yet the 
father who was thus forcibly detaining his beloved daugh 
ter remained for some time perhaps wilfully blind to 
the cause of her illness. 

Alessandrina herself, however, even though almost 
feeling on the point of death, and knowing that others 
thought her so, never in her heart quite despaired of re 
covery. She believed that our Lord would somehow give 
back her life and strength, on purpose for her to conse 
crate them to Him ; and, whilst lying sometimes in what 
appeared to be states of utter collapse, she was inwardly 
pleading with her divine Spouse to hear and grant her 
desires. Her faith was rewarded by the granting of this 
prayer. She was miraculously cured ; and the following is 
the account given of her cure : 

She was lying in a deep lethargy : bodily helpless, 
but with her soul active and alive, and earnestly praying, 
when she suddenly beheld a radiant vision. Jesus Christ 
Himself appeared to stand at her side, holding a ring of 
dazzling beauty ; and with Him appeared His Mother, and 
the two glorious martyrs Thekla and Cecilia, who were 
her special patrons. Looking at her with unspeakable kind 
ness, our Lord asked the sick girl why she was making 
herself so excessively miserable about entering the religious 



26 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

state, since He Himself had undertaken to see that she 
succeeded in doing so ? Alessandrina answered, with deep 
humility: "My dear Redeemer, who canst see to the 
bottom of my heart, Thou knowest well that what grieves 
me so is this putting off of my happiness in being con 
secrated to Thee, for I know not how long I Then our 
Saviour said, " It is to hasten this moment that I have 
come to cure you," and blessed her ; whereupon she was 
at once healed of her sickness. After this, He gave her 
many predictions as to her future. He warned her that 
she must look for many sufferings in the Religious life 
for contradictions and all sorts of trials. He told her that 
she would be visited with cruel bodily infirmities, and 
with grief and anguish of soul, both because of distrust 
or persecutions from man, and through attacks from, and 
pitfalls set by, the devil ; and that all the extraordinary 
favours visions ecstasies, whatever they might be 
granted to her from on high, would bring about the worst 
troubles and the bitterest moments of her life. But He 
further encouraged her not to lose heart, promising that 
He would ever be with her, and that with His help she 
should triumph over every obstacle, to the great profit of 
her own soul and the honour of God. Then, smiling with 
marvellous graciousness upon her, and pointing to the 
brilliant ring in His hand, our Lord concluded by saying: 
" Here is the ring of those sacred espousals that I shall 
soon celebrate with you, that you may be My well-beloved 
bride." Thereupon the Blessed Virgin, and the two holy 
martyrs who were with her, approached the maiden and 
spoke encouraging words to her ; after which the vision 
disappeared, leaving her in full health and filled with un 
utterable joy.* n 

The first thing Alessandrina did after this wonaerrul 
event was to hasten to her father and, throwing herself 
into his arms, tell him how it had all happened. He was 
deeply moved, not only at having his child thus miracu 
lously restored, but by this proof that Christ Himself was 
on her side in the matter of her sacred call: for Pier- 



* Vita Anonima, cap. iv, p. 17. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 



27 



Francesco was too religious a man not to know what a Re 
ligious vocation meant, or to imagine that this supernatural 
visitation could have been sent for no purpose beyond that 
of restoring his daughter to him. He was frightened at this 
sudden conviction, which pierced him, that he had been 
opposing God by his delay in keeping his promise ; and 
still more did he feel penitent and ashamed over his con 
duct when he found nearly every member of the family, 
including his elder brother Federigo de Ricci who ap 
pears just now to have paid him a visit on purpose to give 
his opinion on the matter strongly urging him to grant 
the request which Alessandrina now put forth afresh, and 
to let her go at once to San Vincenzio permanently. The 
poor man seems, indeed, to have suffered quite a verbal 
castigation from his relations, who all freely poured forth 
their views as to the selfishness, injustice, cruelty, and ir- 
religiousness of his recent behaviour ; and one cannot help 
admiring the meekness with which he appears to have 
taken it all, as well as the sincere repentance that he 
showed. Having once seen himself in the wrong he was 
clearly determined to acknowledge it publicly. Not satisfied 
with giving his beloved child immediate leave to go, he 
first (according to Sandrini) begged her pardon, with tears, 
for all the pain he had given her, promising at the same 
time that he would henceforth be to her " a father, not 
according to mere flesh and blood, but according to the 
grace and spirit of God"; and then he took her back him 
self to Prato, that he might with his own hands both restore 
her to the monastery whence he had taken her, and offer her 
as a holocaust to God. 

Thus, at last, and after it had seemed almost hopeless, 
did Alessandrina Lucrezia Romola de Ricci have her 
desires granted : thus did she finally cross the threshold 
of her future home on earth, conducted by the father who 
for a time had been the one great obstacle in her way, and 
who now voluntarily presented her himself to those who 
were to be henceforth her mother and sisters. 



28 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



CHAPTER IV 

Alessandrina receives the habit (1535), and with it the name of Catherine 
Her novitiate Her trials in it Her profession (1536) 

IT is easy to imagine Alessandrina s joy when she found 
herself safely under the peaceful roof of San Vincenzio, 
after all her fears and troubles. Though, indeed, a mere 
neophyte without any rank, or even a name, amongst the 
consecrated virgins of Christ she was at least in the house 

O 

of God, far from the world she had longed to leave, and in 
the atmosphere of prayer and solitude for which her soul 
craved; and this was enough to make her happiness and 
to fill her with ardent gratitude. Without waiting to be 
clothed she gave herself up as fully as possible to every 
spiritual exercise ; and, above all, to everything she could 
find to do that was an act of humility towards those around 
her, feeling deeply her own distance from their sanctity and 
unworthiness to be amongst them. Her one longing was to 
deserve, as soon as possible, to receive the habit of St 
Dominic ; and with this object she undertook the practice 
of every penance and austerity that was within her reach, 
finding nothing too hard or severe for her young ardour. 
Hidden and silent as her ways were in most respects, she 
made no secret of her ambition to put on the virtues of her 
"holy Father" at the same time with his livery, but spoke 
with the greatest naivete of her aspirations to the nuns. 

The latter, watching the little postulant s earnestness 
and genuine humility, and enchanted by her fervour, were 
unanimous in voting for her admission to the novitiate : 
in fact, they were only too thankful to obtain such a sub 
ject. She was therefore clothed after a short probation, re 
ceiving the Religious habit from her uncle, Fra Timoteo, 
who was also now her confessor. The clothing took place 
on Whit Monday, May 18, 1535, when Alessandrina was 



AND HER COMMUNITY 29 

only thirteen years old. She had her baptismal name changed 
for that of Catherine, after her dead mother possibly, also, 
from some likeness observed in her to St Catherine of Siena 
when a child. A fellow-citizen of hers, Cesare Guasti, 
writing in our own day, chooses to look upon this choice 
of a name as a special ordination of Providence in favour 
of the city of Florence, which was not to be left behind 
Siena and Bologna in possessing a canonized Catherine ! * 
At any rate, whatever the ground of her receiving the name, 
we now part company with " Alessandrina " once for all, to 
follow the history of " Sister Catherine." 

No sooner had the fervent postulant received the novice s 
veil than one of the supernatural favours, now to become so 
frequent in her life, was granted to her. She had to stand 
aside whilst another postulant Maria RafFaella Buonamici 
of Prato was clothed ; and as she stood taper in hand 
during this second ceremony, she was rapt in an ecstasy 
wherein she appeared to be led, in spirit, into a lovely 
meadow, where Jesus Christ came, and His holy Mother 
with Him, to bring her the tenderest greetings. Then she 
was allowed, for the time being, to understand fully the 
abundance of sweetness that is granted to those who give 
up all earthly joys for the love of God. At the same time, 
an inward revelation was given to her of the spiritual con 
dition of certain nuns then in the convent, whose souls she 
saw to be in such a high state of sanctity that they were 
like altars whereon a sacrifice of burning love was perpetu 
ally offered. Lastly, whilst still in this state, she was ex 
pressly charged by our Lord and the Blessed Virgin them 
selves to be obedient in all things to one particular nun 
Sister Maddalena de Strozzi who would be set over her 
by her superiors, and whom she was to look upon as ap 
pointed by heaven for her special mistress and guardian. 
This sister was the daughter of Raffaello Strozzi, one of the 
chief persons in Florence, and she had been brought up 
entirely with a view to earthly greatness, for which she 
possessed every natural qualification; but just in the very 
bloom of her youth she had thrown up all her prospects to 

* Le Lettere spirituals, etc., Proemio, p. 9. 



3 o ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

consecrate herself to God in San Vincenzio. She had done 
this in 1514, and was approaching middle-age when thus 
chosen to be guide and mistress to Catherine. She is de 
scribed by Razzi as a woman of absolutely angelic nature, 
and having even an angelic sort of beauty " like," he says, 
" the blessed spirits of Fra Angelico, for grace, dignity and 
modesty, and, moreover, possessing a heavenly voice."* 
She is said, during many years throughout which she had 
charge of our saint first as novice-mistress, and after 
wards as being put over her in a special manner to have 
been a true guardian-angel in zeal, tenderness, and unre 
mitting attention to her welfare ; whilst she also contributed 
largely to subsequent histories of her spiritual pupil by 
carefully writing down, from time to time, whatever was 
most notable or marvellous in her doings. 

Coming back to herself, the newly-made Sister Catherine 
was filled to overflowing with joy at finding herself actually 
wearing the habit she had so longed for. Not only because 
of the vision just granted to her, but on account of all her 
previous unusual experience in the supernatural, she was 
necessarily in a very different position from any ordinary 
novice in her realization of the greatness of Religious life. 
To most lately-clothed postulants their reception of the habit 
is but the very first step of initiation into the mysteries ot 
perfection ; whilst in her case it was only an exterior sign 
of a high degree of interior virtue and communion with 
God, attained long before her entry into the monastery. 

However, that prophecy made by her divine Spouse at 
the time of her miraculous cure was to be strictly fulfilled; 
and, as a beginning of the troubles foretold, she was de 
stined, in spite of virtues and aspirations, to fail accord 
ing to all appearances under the most ordinary trials of 
the novitiate. Indeed the holy girl s career, during this 
particular period of her life, is perhaps one of the most 
striking examples on record of what both humiliations and 
humility really mean. This history of her wonderful novice- 
ship and its conclusion, too, is interesting as an intimate 
picture of the Religious discipline and cloistered life of 

* Seraf; Razzi, lib, I, cap. viii, p. 27. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 31 

her day, being taken as it chiefly is from the pages of 
Sandrini, a learned member of the Dominican Order. 

It was the will of God, whilst Catherine was outwardly 
but a novice under her mistress, like any other, to take 
the direction of her soul, really, into His own divine 
hands; and whilst, for her own good, He allowed every 
single thing to conspire against her, so as to make her ap 
pear utterly unfit for profession, to support her under the 
cloud by His own strength, which should gradually conduct 
her to those solitary heights of virtue that are the dwell 
ings of the perfect. The course of events, after the cloth 
ing and admission to novitiate, which brought about this 
purifying process, was as follows. 

The Sisters of San Vincenzio, in receiving little 
Catherine amongst them, had of course been well aware 
of all those virtues in her that were apparent of her 
angelic innocence, her wonderful piety and the ardent 
longings for perfection which had but recently shone forth 
in her struggles to get into the cloister. They, however, 
knew absolutely nothing of all those exceptional graces 
of the visions, the ecstasies, and all the frequent and fa 
miliar supernatural communications with which our Lord 
had favoured her from her earliest childhood. She, on her 
side, with that instinct of delicate reserve that belongs to 
all noble and highly-gifted natures, had never dreamt of 
talking about what went on within her soul, but had hidden 
all the wonderful graces of her interior life beneath a veil 
of humility, so impenetrable that not even her confessor 
had discovered anything of her extraordinary state. In the 
present stage of her history, Catherine seems to have been 
under the impression that she was intended to keep all 
these interior matters a complete secret between herself 
and her God, even to the end of her life ; and hence arose 
all the misunderstandings, contradictions, and humiliations 
by which she was so terribly tried during her novitiate by 
mistresses and superiors. 

To begin with, her states of supernatural prayer, in 
which she was rapt away from earthly things, clearly be 
came more and more frequent after her clothing ; and, when 



32 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

in such states, it is easy to understand how very inconve 
nient it was for her to be subject to community obliga 
tions. She was constantly, as it were, in a most trying 
dilemma ; being, on the one hand, perfectly submissive in 
desire to that discipline of a noviceship which allows no 
breathing-space for self-will, and, on the other, having her 
soul in the grasp of God Himself, who was forcibly so 
to speak bearing it away captive as an eagle bears its prey 
to the heights. She, who was by nature the very meekest 
lamb of the whole flock, was thus unwillingly constrained 
to appear actually rebellious. When the Rule called her to 
some special community exercise, she was often not even 
aware of the hour, being entirely lost in a heavenly vision. 
If they had given her an order, He who had stolen her 
heart proceeded to rob her yet further, not of the good-will 
but of the actual time and power, for fulfilling it ; so that 
those around could literally see nothing in her but apparent 
faithlessness and disobedience. The only religious practices 
in which she showed herself to be quite incomparably 
assiduous and fervent were those that consisted in prayer 
and contemplation ; but for these she got no credit at all, 
because of her seeming to neglect all the rest. They could 
not overlook her incapacity for manual work, and for learn 
ing the chant of the Office ; nor what seemed to be her 
sleepiness and dulness of mind at recreation, and even in 
spiritual conversations. In the eyes of her mistresses, this 
exclusive taste for prayer was a sign of the spirit of private 
judgement and of self-will. As to her companions in the 
novitiate, they were chiefly taken up with external prac 
tices rather Marthas than Marys at this early stage of 
their Religious career and were possibly a little jealous 
at sight of their young fellow-novice s calm and absorbed 
habits of prayer ; at any rate, they used to complain of her, 
and say that all her love of God did not make her loving 
to tbem> for that she scorned to take part in either their 
work or their recreations. 

There was another trouble soon added to all the spiri 
tual discredit that came upon poor Sister Catherine from 
these apparent breaches of Rule and from the public re- 



AND HER COMMUNITY 



33 



primands of her superiors. This was a further discredit of 
a purely natural kind, and even more humiliating, though 
having the same origin. By dint of her constant habit of 
interior converse with her Lord and Master, her soul had 
become so concentrated within itself that all her faculties 
seemed drawn inwards, and she had the greatest difficulty in 
turning her attention to the external things around her. 
When superiors or companions questioned her on ordinary 
matters, she often answered like a person half asleep. The 
right words seemed only to come by a slow and painful 
effort, which gave an effect far from favourable to her in 
telligence. Again, sometimes when she had actually begun 
a conversation, or was on her way with a companion to 
choir or some community gathering, her soul would sud 
denly be rapt away by a visitation of the Holy Spirit, so 
that she entirely forgot what she was saying or where she 
was going. There being no key whatever to all such be 
haviour on her part, in possession of her Religious mothers 
and sisters, the result of it was naturally disastrous for her. 
Incidents of the kind began to be looked upon as either 
mere whims, or strange oddities of nature, only explicable 
by the existence of some unusual stupidity, or even defi 
ciency, of mind in the poor little novice ; and by degrees, 
as no improvement appeared, it came to pass that Catherine 
lost all the consideration she had enjoyed as a postulant 
and to be looked down upon by the whole community, 
even including her special mistress, Sister Maddalena 
Strozzi, who does not appear at this time to have had 
more light given her about her holy little charge than was 
possessed by others. Hence, the joy felt by the nuns on 
their first acquisition of Pierfrancesco s saintly child as a 
subject, was changed before long to a depressing convic 
tion that they had acquired one who was less than mediocre 
in every way if not even likely to be an actual burden to 
the community. 

Catherine, meantime being, as we know, the very 
opposite of dull or stupid was fully aware of what was 
going on around her, and both saw clearly and felt keenly 
the change that was taking place in the general feeling to- 

3 



34 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

wards her. It was in her conduct throughout this trying 
time that the solidity and genuineness of her humility 
shone forth ; for the reality of all those humble feelings 
that she had expressed on her first reception amongst the 
nuns, as to her unworthiness to be of their number 
and her deep reverence for their holiness, could not pos 
sibly have been put to a severer test than it now was. 
Openly as she had talked with the Religious of her am 
bition for Dominican perfection, and plainly as they had 
not hesitated to show the high expectations they had 
formed of her, what must she not have felt when she 
found herself no sooner a novice than compelled to fall in 
their estimation ? To any ordinary girl of even high virtue 
and to a very young and loving one most of all it 
could have been nothing short of unendurably bitter to 
see that she was coming to be looked upon with misgiving, 
not only as to natural fitness for her high calling, but as 
to the actual sincerity of her spiritual aspirations, whilst 
all the time she knew the misgivings to be absolutely un 
founded. Yet no bitterness of thought seems for a moment 
to have entered Catherine s heart ; and perhaps there is 
nothing more touchingly attractive in the whole of this 
gentle saint s career, and nothing that brings stronger 
conviction of her early extraordinary sanctity than her 
attitude under this sharp humiliation. Clinging firmly to 
her own deeply-rooted belief that God intended her to 
keep unbroken silence as to what passed within, she never 
once opened her lips to defend herself from suspicion 
and reprimand, or to explain the apparent eccentricities of 
conduct and deficiencies of mind which she knew were 
puzzling mistresses and companions alike. She went quietly 
on her way, accepting everything without protest, and taking 
the whole state of things as sent by her divine Spouse 
Himself for the discipline of her soul, and as part of 
necessary religious training. She was unaffectedly con 
vinced that it was infinitely less than her imperfections 
needed or deserved, and was in truth not merely willing 
but thankful to be allowed to suffer something that would 
bring her nearer to Christ; whilst her feelings of love and 



AND HER COMMUNITY 35 

veneration for those who were the immediate causes of 
her suffering only grew deeper. 

Thus, in the midst of contempt, the heroic little novice 
remained actually happy for a long time, and would have 
asked for no better lot than to be the lowest and most de 
spised of the community, had it not been for a terrible 
fear that suddenly arose to disturb her serenity. As the 
prescribed time for her profession approached, and she 
was conscious of becoming an object of careful observa 
tion, she began to pay more attention to what was said of 
her, and at last grasped the alarming fact that the judge 
ments being pronounced upon her all tended to nothing 
less than her dismissal from the monastery on the ground 
of unsuitability. Such a result as this of her novitiate 
troubles appears to have been unexpected by Sister Cathe 
rine until its immediate probability suddenly burst upon 
her ; and the painful impression was soon confirmed by a 
distressing incident in which her uncle, Fra Timoteo, 
played the chief part. This excellent man, after having 
done all he could to help on his niece s early vocation, 
was now more seriously troubled than any one else at her 
apparent alteration. He was both tender-hearted and strictly 
devoted to duty ; and here he found himself in the grievous 
dilemma of having either to see his own brother s child 
imposed on the communtiy as a useless burden, or to agree 
to her being torn away from the home that she had nearly 
died of longing for. His grief over the matter was so in 
tense that, being of an emotional and demonstrative nature, 
he could not prevent its breaking forth on the first occa 
sion that arose. One day, when he was fulfilling a duty 
which,_ according to the custom of those times, fell to him 
as spiritual director of the noviceship, and was addressing 
a few words of exhortation to each novice in turn accord 
ing to her particular needs, the turn of his niece came. 
Whilst she was lying prostrate before him, Mother Mad- 
dalena Strozzi entered the room, to make a request of the 
Father about the entry of a new postulant, for whom she 
wished him to act as mediator. Hearing this suggestion, 
Fra Timoteo let his sorrow break forth. " O Mother " 



3 6 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

he protested, " what a difficult and delicate task you are 
wanting to put upon me ! How shall I ever have the 
courage to interfere, and expose myself again to the risk 
of bringing incapable subjects into the convent like this 
poor niece of mine, whom I should be so thankful now 
never to have allowed to put her foot within it ? " 

Such are the words reported by Sandrini ; and what 
poor Catherine felt on hearing them uttered, and in a tone 
of such deep sorrow, one may guess. Until now, whatever 
her troubles had been even when stricken nearly to death 
in her father s house she had never once really lost heart. 
But this time, seeing herself threatened with final expul 
sion from her beloved cloister, hope seemed to die within 
her, and she felt for the moment as if actually abandoned 
by God for her sins. All that passed in that fervent girlish 
heart at this terrible crisis of her life what secret tears 
and prayers she poured forth what penances she did to 
disarm what she feared was the anger of God and win His 
ear to her entreaties, can of course never be fully known ; 
but one may form some idea of her inward state and hid 
den actions from the outward course she pursued when 
this fear had laid hold of her. She clearly felt that her only 
chance lay in an appeal to the feelings of the nuns, and 
especially to the " ancients " of the monastery, upon whom 
she knew much would depend. Accordingly putting aside 
all human respect she now never met one of them any 
where in the house without falling on her knees before 
her, and begging for her vote as earnestly as if her own 
fate depended entirely on the favour of that one nun 
only. She went on doing this so constantly, with such 
deep humility, such burning anxiety, and such lamentable 
tears and sobs, that the Religious could not help becoming 
pitiful and tender over the poor novice s bitter grief. To 
induce them by every means she could think of to soften 
further towards her, and grant the grace she asked, Cathe 
rine then took to assuring them, in the most naive manner, 
" that she fully expected to get from God, for the wbok 
time of her religious life, all the strength and virtue that she 
had been wanting in during the year of her probation" 



AND HER COMMUNITY 37 

Genuine humility bears a stamp that almost always 
commands both sympathy and confidence, for the reason 
that God seems to be present in a creature really empty of 
self; and in this case the sisters of San Vincenzio were at 
last completely won over by the humble novice. In spite 
of all appearances against her vocation, and of all the signs 
of general incapacity that she had given during her time 
of trial, they were so touched by her simplicity, and by 
the extreme attachment that she expressed in such lowly 
terms for the Religious life, that they voted for her solemn 
profession trusting to God, "who giveth grace to the 
humble," to make all right. Scarcely had they recorded 
their votes than their trust was strangely confirmed, for 
a strong feeling of consolation and satisfaction in what 
they had done came over the whole community : they felt 
as if they had performed one of the best actions in their 
lives. Then fearing lest some fresh temptation on the 
subject should assail them they desired Catherine to 
prepare for immediate profession, paying no heed to her 
own desire to be professed on the feast of the Assump 
tion, which was then about six weeks off. She accordingly 
prepared at once, and pronounced her solemn vows on the 
feast of St John the Baptist, June 24, 1536. She made 
her profession in the hands of her step-mother s brother, 
Fra Angelo da Diacetto, who was just then prior of St 
Dominic s Friary in Prato, and who became afterwards 
Bishop of Fiesole ; and her joy was now complete. 



38 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



CHAPTER V 

History of San Vincenzio at Prato and its foundresses Fresh trials, ill 
ness, and miraculous recover/, of Catherine Her restoration to 
favour with the Community Second illness and second cure 
Doubts as to her extraordinary states finally dispelled Further 
trials and supernatural helps Her victory over the devil s attacks 

ST CATHERINE S solemn Religious profession, which brings 
us to the real beginning of her long career in San Vincen- 
zio s Convent, makes a good opportunity for giving a brief 
account of the origin of this Religious house and of its 
first founders. This is well worth doing, for the founda 
tion has an interesting history in many respects, especially 
in being closely associated with no less celebrated a per 
sonage than Fra Girolamo Savonarola. Both because of 
his connection with their own origin, and because they 
shared in that universal enthusiasm for him amongst some 
of his countrymen, which broke forth again and again in 
different forms, under different leaders, for many years 
after his death, the great Dominican was ever looked upon 
by the nuns of this house as a saint and a prophet, besides 
being loved as practically their founder. The establishment 
of the house came about as follows : 

Whilst Savonarola, as prior of San Marco in Florence, 
was labouring to bring about the regeneration of that city, 
which was torn in pieces by the ever-growing fervour of 
his supporters the Piagnoni and the violent conduct of his 
opponents the Arrabbiati^ it is well known that from time 
to time the preacher gave his followers a little breathing- 
space by carrying the fiery torch of his eloquence into the 
neighbouring towns and hamlets. Now, on one of these 
expeditions, in 1495, just three years before his death, he 
came to Prato with a few of his friars, to work at reform 
ing the monasteries and the morals of the population. 
Here, like all true and fervent apostles of Christ s Gospel, 
he was a "cause of the fall and the resurrection of many in 



AND HER COMMUNITY 39 

Israel";* but as a prophet sent by God, he announced 
beforehand what he was to do. He foretold " falls" that he 
might get people to escape them by wholesome fear ; he 
foretold "resurrection" that they might be roused up to 
reform by joyful hopes. 

One day, when he was in the garden of Antonio 
Sacromoro, opposite St Nicholas s Church, and when 
somebody had informed him of irregularities in a certain 
convent of daughters of St Catherine, he began prophesy 
ing about them. He sent them word, as a message from 
God, that if they did not return to Christian habits, and 
a more regular mode of life, the day would come when 
they would be violently torn from their cloister by soldiers 
and carried off by them on horseback. Another time, 
standing with some of his friars before the Convent of St 
Dominic, "stretching his arms towards it, he pointed to a 
spot close by, saying that a fervent community of holy 
virgins would shortly be established there." 

Events very soon justified both these predictions. The 
first of the two prophecies fulfilled was that of the " resur 
rection." The power of Fra Girolamo s apostolic preaching, 
supported by the holiness of his own example, produced 
abundant fruits of grace and salvation in Prato during his 
stay there ; and, amongst the souls touched by God, there 
were several maidens members of highly-respected fami 
lies in the town who formed a plan amongst themselves 
for living a more perfect life. Savonarola, on leaving Prato 
himself, left behind him at St Dominic s one of his Reli 
gious called Fra Silvestro de Marradi a man of exceed 
ing piety, and one of the most eloquent preachers produced 
by the training of San Marco. The life of this friar became 
no less celebrated for the holiness of his works than for the 
influence of his preaching, and he is placed in the ranks of 
the " Blessed " of the order in Tuscany. To Fra Silvestro 
these holy maids betook themselves, seeking at the dis 
ciple s hands the help they needed for developing the germ 
planted in their hearts by the master. He did so well by 
the little flock, thus brought under his direction, that be- 

* Luke ii, 34. 



4 o 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



fore long its members both desired and prepared for the 
monastic life; and in the year 1503 they all appeared be 
fore Francesco Salviati, Vicar-General of San Marco s 
community, then just lately arrived in Prato, to beg for the 
Religious habit. Finding all satisfactory, on inquiring, he 
agreed at once to their request ; and, on August 29 in that 
year, gave them the habit in St Dominic s Church, in 
presence of their fervent director Fra Silvestro, then prior. 
The young novices were nine in number ; and, as the 
sisters of St Catherine s Monastery made difficulties about 
receiving them, it became needful to see about a new 
foundation, both for them and for a good many more who 
seemed anxious to follow their example. Pope Julius II 
was approached on the subject, and gave the required au 
thority for founding the new convent, under the patron 
age of St Vincent Ferrer. Thus, eight years after Girolamo 
Savonarola s prediction in Prato, the Religious house of San 
Vincenzio sprang into being : foretold by his prophetic 
lights, created in germ by his apostolic word, and finally made 
fruitful by his death. It was, however, four years from the 
date of its foundation when the convent came to occupy the 
actual spot that he had pointed out, near the Gualdimari 
Gate, which opens on the road to Pistoja. 

The second event which verified Savonarola s prophecy 
that of the "fall" of the unfaithful nuns and their con 
vent was also the occasion of a special intervention of 
divine Providence for the protection of San Vincenzio, 
then still in its early days. This event happened in the 
year 1512. The pope and the emperor together had sent 
arms against Florence, to punish that city for having 
sided with the French, harboured schismatics, and refused 
to join the League of Cambrai by restoring the Medici. 
This army commanded by the Viceroy of Naples, Ray 
mond of Cordona attacked the town of Prato, which is 
almost at the gates of Florence. Having taken it by assault 
they gave it up to all the horrors of pillage. It is terrible 
even to imagine what was done in the devoted town by an 
army of 12,000 men, amongst whom were nearly three 
hundred apostate monks of various orders, and four thou- 




AND HER COMMUNITY 41 

sand Moors : the general destruction the thefts and 
the offences of all kinds in churches and monasteries. Then 
it was that St Catherine s Convent, which had despised 
Savonarola s warning, became the prey of an enemy, all the 
more terrible that it was at that moment the blind instrument 
of the anger and vengeance of the Most High, for crimes 
committed in the sanctuary and against monastic rule. 
"A great number of the nuns," says Serafino Razzi, 
" were actually snatched from their cloister and carried off 
by the soldiers on the cruppers of their horses." 

The story told of the Sisters of San Vincenzio is as 
follows : They had all, it is said, assembled in the church, 
with a number of girls who had rushed in from the town 
to take shelter in the convent. Suddenly, whilst they were 
all praying, the doors of the house were noisily flung 
open, and threatening cries were heard, accompanied by 
the sound of men s footsteps coming rapidly up to the 
upper floor where the church was. Three Spanish captains, 
as fully bent as the lowest of their soldiers on murder, pillage, 
and even licence, had rushed in ; but they were stopped, 
the tradition says, by a miracle. Having reached a sort of 
vestibule just outside the church-door, they saw facing 
them a statue of the glorious Virgin Mary which seemed 
to be living. With a gesture, and in a tone of authority, 
the Mother of God spoke and commanded them to respect 
this monastery and to watch over it, promising them the 
reward of paradise if they would faithfully obey her. The 
three men, suddenly changed from raging foes into ardent 
defenders, entered the church still carrying their naked 
swords, and thereby terrifying the crowd of Religious and 
girls into shrieking out to them to spare their lives. Great 
was the astonishment of the poor women when the officers 
reassured them by walking straight to the altar and swear 
ing on its sacred stone, not only to do them no harm, but 
to take them under their protection and defend them from 
all attacks. The promise was faithfully kept ; for the monas 
tery remained uninjured and in perfect peace for the whole 
twenty-two days of the army s occupation, during which 
there was universal desolation outside. 



42 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

This miraculous deliverance occurred on the feast of 
St John the Baptist, and in memory of the wonderful 
grace the grateful community instituted a solemn yearly 
celebration of the saint s day. In the morning, Mass of 
our Lady was sung with full choir, and there was a general 
Communion ; in the evening, a brilliant procession tra 
versed all the chief parts of the convent, in which our 
Lady s statue was carried in triumph, by torchlight and 
with singing of sacred canticles. There is a likeness in this 
incident to the wonderful security in which, by divine 
protection, the nuns of St Dominic s first foundation, at 
Prouille, lived through the devastations and outrages of 
the heretic army that invaded that town. Lacordaire re 
marks on this, that God seems to be specially touched by 
the first works of saints, which have a purity and sweet 
ness all their own.* 

The nine foundresses of this favoured Religious house, 
as well as some who entered the convent afterwards, and 
were Saint Catherine s companions for a time, have had 
their special characteristics gracefully traced by some of 
the early biographers and chroniclers of the convent. 
Amongst them were several women not far inferior, in 
holiness and beauty of character, to the saint herself. To 
give an account of each here, however, would take more 
space than can be afforded; and we must content ourselves 
with shortly reproducing the portrait of the most remark 
able and important of all that company of holy virgins: 
Sister Raffaella da Giovanni da Faenza. 

This really great Dominican woman brought to the 
work of foundation not only conspicuous virtues, but all 
the mental qualification needed for making these of effect. 
There was no nun in the house more humble or more ex 
act in observing every detail of rule and of community 
life. From the time of her entry into Religion she adopted 
a habit of saying the whole Psalter every day, and of spend 
ing the hour just before Matins in prayer. Much given to 
thought, she soon grasped the fact that, as nothing really 
great or high had ever been done for God, or for the per- 

* Vie de St Dominique, chap, iv, p. 182. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 43 

fecting of souls in the Church, except by true sanctity, so 
her monastery could never be worthily established except 
by the help of a great saint.* From the moment that she 
clearly saw this the thought never left her; and she made 
the gift of a real saint to the community the chief object 
of her longest and most fervent prayers. The second object 
for which she most earnestly petitioned, and which she 
joined in her thoughts with the first as its necessary corol 
lary, was the advantage of a more spacious and suitable 
church than the small and poor oratory they had begun 
with. Her idea was that a beautiful and well-arranged 
church should hold the same position, as regarded the 
material structure of the monastery, that a saint would 
hold in the spiritual fabric namely, the furthering of 
perfection by helping souls to reach more easily to union 
with God. 

Providence, which had its special designs on Sister 
Raffaella, soon afforded her the opportunity of carrying 
out her high aims as to the Religious life in her commu 
nity. When Mother Maria d Antonio Santo, the first 
prioress of San Vincenzio, knew herself about to die, she 
begged the sisters to vote for Raffaella as her successor, 
assuring them that her youth would be fully made up for 
by the help that she would get from God. This promise 
was fully justified, for the new prioress governed the con 
vent with wisdom and prudence far beyond her age. She 
kept her office for twenty-two successive years, on account 
of the monastery s being still under process of formation; 
and for the whole of that time she gave perfect satisfaction 
both to her own sisters and to the Fathers of the Order 
who directed them, whilst her guidance was also of im 
mense profit to the souls under her charge. Her govern 
ment was a wonderful mixture of gentleness and severity. 
Cheerful and serene of heart, and in manner, she never 
theless always carried a discipline hung to her girdle, with 
which she punished on the spot every public fault or 
breach of rule that she saw committed, f At the same time 
her sweetness and kindness were perfect ; and the love she 

* Seraf. Razzi, lib. I, cap. viii, p. 18. t Ibid- 



44 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

bore to her sisters in Religion was so real that it overflowed 
even on their relations, to whom she gave the most affec 
tionate proofs of it when they came on visits to the con 
vent. One of the things she watched most strictly over in 
the house was silence, as being the greatest possible safe 
guard of fervent contemplation and prayer. Above all, she 
insisted on its observance in the dormitories, where she 
would not allow the very smallest noise. By such means 
did she pursue her sublime end : the desire that her 
monastery should produce a great saint, for whose appear 
ance she thus prepared the soil, being herself the pre 
cursor of Saint Catherine the angel " sent before her 
face to prepare her ways." 

The thread of Sister Catherine s own history may now 
be taken up again where we left it : at the moment of 
her Religious profession. This irrevocable act, far from 
being the end of her trials, was only the beginning of 
more and greater ones. The Dominican theologian, John 
Tauler, says, speaking of those who are to be drawn into 
the closest union with God : " It is not our heavenly 
Father s custom to use half-measures in purifying a soul 
that He destines to such high favours. He bathes it 
plunges it throws it, so to speak, headlong into a per 
fect ocean of bitterness, as He threw His prophet Jonas 
into the sea, and as He made His tempests to overwhelm 
the soul of David." So did He now act with regard to 
Catherine ; and in her case there was special reason for 
such purification, from the nature of the graces to be be 
stowed upon her. She was to be not only the spouse of 
Jesus Christ, but of Jesus Christ crucified, and hence it was 
with His sufferings that she would be particularly associated. 
In preparation for this, it was necessary that before being 
allowed to share the sufferings of God she should under 
stand the full depths of human grief; and that, before 
putting her lips to the chalice of His Passion, she should 
have steeped them in the bitter cup of our pains and tribu 
lations here below. Through these trials we have to follow 
her in the next five years of her life. 

Her first trouble was a repetition, but increased, of 



AND HER COMMUNITY 45 

what she had already suffered from others. The return 
of sympathetic feeling, which had made Catherine s sisters 
in Religion receive her to the act of solemn Profession, 
hardly outlasted the time necessary for arranging and ac 
complishing that act ; and it was she herself who put an 
end to the feeling, by the very increase of fervour brought 
about in her own heart through the gratitude that she felt 
for the favour she had received. Acting on this impulse, 
she plunged deeper than ever into the hidden life, and into 
her former habits of solitary intercourse with the super 
natural world. As before, these habits betrayed themselves 
by what appeared to be fits of absent-mindedness* and 
eccentricities of conduct, which annoyed those around her 
and again alienated all her companions affections and in 
terest; only, this time, the states which caused her be 
haviour being intensified in degree, the effects were more 
noticeable than formerly. Consequently, a month had barely 
gone by when the poor girl found herself in a worse posi 
tion of universal discredit with the community than during 
her novitiate, for she was not now the object of even the 
slight degree of consideration and attention that had at 
tached to her position as a probationer. She had become 
simply a fait accompli and an unwelcome and useless one, 
whom everybody soon began treating almost as if she were 
not there at all. Her biographer describes her as being 
" completely put on one side, and looked upon as no 
thing." f They adopted the plan of not even caring 
whether she was present or absent at the regular com 
munity exercises, simply taking for granted that, if not 
there, she was hidden in some corner or other of the 
monastery, rapt in one of her states of abstraction or, 
as they now took to often calling these, her sleepy fits. In 
short, they appear to have behaved to the saint, for the 
whole of this strange period of her career, much as they 
would have done to an actual idiot of inoffensive kind, in 
whom no strange doings could cause surprise, but whom 

* On the subject of " raptures " such as close the senses to all outward things, see 
St Teresa s Chateau Int&rieur : Sixiemes Demeures, chap, iv, v. 
f Sandrini, lib. I, cap. viii, p. 28. 



46 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

they felt at perfect liberty to treat with a sort of contemp 
tuous pity, and even to ridicule in a good-natured way if 
they came across her. Thus, they are said sometimes, when 
she happened to be present at spiritual conferences, to have 
amused themselves by asking her questions ; and by then 
laughing at the extraordinarily humble replies that she 
gave, as fresh proofs of mental incapacity and foolishness. 
Such conduct on the nuns part does not impress one with 
their wisdom ; but there can be no doubt that it was all 
expressly allowed by our Lord for Catherine s more utter 
humiliation. The higher were the graces He gave her, the 
lower did she sink in the opinion of her sisters and su 
periors ; and when the sense-life was entirely suspended in 
her, by reason of the soul s being rapt away to a region of 
supernatural light and activity, the immovability of her 
body was taken for nothing but a prolonged fainting-fit 
arising from weak health. 

Now, however great were the delights of her raptures 
and ecstasies, when she came back from them to the shadows 
of this life she certainly did not find her power of suffering 
any the less for having enjoyed them. Her sensitively 
tender heart was cruelly torn by the indifference and dis 
dain of her companions; for though, in her humility, she 
would have willingly remained the lowest in the house, it 
was quite a different matter to find herself bereft of all 
affection ; and she could by no means comfort herself, 
humanly speaking, under such a trial. Nevertheless, it 
was the one that God had decreed for her, and which 
He left her to bear without mitigation for two years. 
She had to learn in advance, by her own personal experi 
ence, the full meaning of that " Canticle of the Passion " 
which the Blessed Virgin was to reveal to her later on ; 
and, especially, to be able with her own heart to sympa 
thize truly in that complaint of Jesus Christ s Heart: 
" My friends and my neighbours have drawn near, and 
stood against Me. All they that saw Me have laughed Me to 
scorn : they have spoken with the lips, and wagged the head."* 

But all this was only the beginning, and the least evi- 

* Ps. xxxvii, 12; xxi, 8. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 47 

dent part, of Catherine s troubles. Two years after her 
profession in the year 1538, when she was sixteen years 
old she was suddenly seized with an illness that was as 
extraordinary in its complications as it was serious in 
kind. She is said to have suffered from four separate 
diseases with sufficient intensity in each to bring her to 
death s door ; and yet she had to lie sick of their com 
bined torture for two years uninterruptedly. The doctors, 
who had been puzzled from the beginning by the nature 
of this strange seizure, became fairly bewildered when 
they found that the complaint baffled all their efforts 
against it, as time went on. In fact, all their experiments 
on the patient, for either cure or alleviation, only seem to 
have resulted in making her worse ; so that at last they 
had to give up all attempts at treating her and leave the 
disease to take its course. The poor young saint s condi 
tion from her sixteenth to her eighteenth year is described 
as heartrending ; whilst the sweet, patient submission and 
courage of the sufferer are said to have been as wonderful 
and as touchingly impressive as the illness. Sandrini says : 
"All those who were witness of Catherine s state were con 
tinually moved even to tears ; and they found it almost 
equally hard to understand how the good and just God 
could allow such innocence to suffer so terribly and un- 
intermittingly, and how so feeble a being could be thus 
torn to pieces by incessant pains without uttering a single 
cry or complaint, such as might have been some slight re 
lief to nature."* But, though man could not see it, God 
was in fact preparing this chosen soul by such severe treat 
ment for His double design upon it first, for its glorious 
participation in the mysterious sufferings of God the Son ; 
and, secondly, for the necessary return of the community s 
sympathy and respect for the saint, through the spectacle 
of her supernaturally heroic virtue under trial. 

For with the coming of this cross the former one dis 
appeared, the sisters having, very soon after the strange ill 
ness began, become deeply interested in the once-despised 
Catherine and most earnestly anxious for her recovery. 

* Sandrini, lib. Ill, cap. xvii, p. 206. 



48 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

With this object they took to praying incessantly, and to 
hoping that a cure might be effected by some sort of miracu 
lous help if it were impossible by human means. They had 
prayed thus perseveringly for nearly two years besieging 
with entreaties, and making vows to, our Lady and all the 
special saints whose intercession they desired without re 
sult ; when the approach of a particular date, celebrated in 
the monastery, suggested to the community that they should 
make a vow to certain " Blessed " of the Order whose me 
mory the date revived. It was the anniversary of the death 
of Savonarola and his companions. 

As has been said above, the cultus of this great man, 
which despite the tragic and humiliating circumstances 
of his death had constantly been kept up by ardent fol 
lowers and imitators in many parts of Italy, was nowhere 
so fervent as at San Vincenzio s. Besides cherishing his me 
mory as a sacred thing, the Religious preserved with the 
greatest care some objects that had belonged to him, and 
also a few of his own ashes, saved by some generous hand 
from the decree which condemned them to be all thrown 
into the Arno. These relics the nuns boldly honoured as 
if authenticated for those of a martyr, which they held 
Savonarola, with his companions Domenico and Silvestro, 
to be. They venerated his pictures, invoked his interces 
sion, and kept the day of his death as the feast of his entry 
into heaven. Catherine, though last of all the community 
in the knowledge of this cultus, surpassed everybody in her 
devotion to its object. Accordingly, when her sisters in 
Religion determined on making a special vow to " Fra 
Girolamo and his companions " for obtaining her cure (we 
are not told what the particular vow was), she joined fer 
vently with them, three days before .the feast in question. 
On the eve of this feast which, that year, was also the 
eve of Trinity Sunday the sick girl begged to be left 
quite alone in her cell, so that she might pray with more 
fervour. The Monastery Chronicle relates that, while thus 
left by herself, about four o clock in the morning she 
managed to get up and crawl to the little altar on which 
the relics of Savonarola were placed ; and that there, lean- 



AND HER COMMUNITY 49 

ing exhausted on this altar, she dropped her head on her 
arms and fell asleep. In her sleep she had a vision of three 
Dominican friars, resplendent in glory, of whom she be 
lieved the middle and most glorious of all to have been 
Fra Girolamo. The chronicler thus describes it : " Sister 
Catherine, addressing this middle one, said : c Who are 
you ? c What ! replied the friar, c do you not know me ? 
No, Father, said Catherine, I know you not. c But of 
whom have you begged your cure ? he answered. c Of Fra 
Girolamo, she instantly responded. c Well ! I am Fra Giro 
lamo, and I am come to cure you. But you must first pro 
mise me always to obey your superiors and your confessor, 
and then you must go to confession this morning so as to 
receive Communion. With that, he made a large sign of 
the cross over her, and she found herself perfectly cured. 
Frightened at first by so sudden and great a change, her 
fright soon gave way to joy, and to the liveliest gratitude 
to God."* 

Such is the account given in the convent archives of 
this event, so memorable to the community as being be 
lieved by them to establish the blessedness of Savonarola 
and his companions. It had also the immediate effect of 
sensibly modifying the sisters attitude towards Catherine 
in respect of her extraordinary states of mind, which they 
felt unable to judge so severely after such a proof as this 
of her being under the special protection of heaven, as well 
as after watching the heroic courage that she had shown 
throughout her long illness. They began now to wonder 
whether, under the appearance of what they had looked 
upon as mere common " faintings and sleepy fits," there 
had not been hidden something of a much higher nature. 
They tried to recall circumstances, and to remember exactly 
what had been Sister Catherine s appearance and proceed 
ings when in these states. They recollected that, instead of 
having closed eyes and drooping head, as in ordinary heavy 
slumbers or a pale, livid face, and nerveless body, as in 
common fainting fits or convulsive and revolting move 
ments with foaming at the mouth, as in epilepsy she had 

* Lc Letter e, etc. Document ^ etc., p. 48. 



50 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

had her eyes open, and sometimes a most brilliant colour 
in her cheeks ; had remained firmly in whatever attitude 
she had been in when the seizure came upon her whether 
kneeling, standing, or sitting without any sign of weak 
ness or relaxed muscles ; and, however insensible to what 
was around her, had never made a sign or movement to 
inspire any feelings but those of piety in anybody near 
her. Recalling all this, and looking at the young sister 
now with very different personal feelings from those they 
had formerly entertained towards her, the nuns, and their 
spiritual director with them, came finally to the conclusion 
that they had been mistaken in their earlier judgement of 
Catherine s strange states, and that these had probably 
been signs of some supernatural intervention concerned 
with her soul. Consequently, after serious deliberation, it 
was decided that her interior spiritual state should be 
examined with all necessary prudence, so that its con 
formity with the Holy Spirit, and the absence of any 
possible delusions from the spirit of lies, should be fully 
tested. 

The venerable Father Timoteo, accordingly, had the 
humble Catherine brought before him. He began by pro 
fessing great surprise and displeasure at her having con 
cealed from him, and only let him hear through others, 
things that he, as her confessor, ought to have heard straight 
from herself. He then went on to dilate on her imprudence 
in practising such entire want of openness with her su 
periors, by which conduct she had exposed her soul to 
the danger of becoming a victim of the devil s delusions 
and snares ; and finally ordered her, in virtue of the au 
thority he held from God, to give him then and there an 
account of everything that she saw and heard in her states 
of rapture. This was a sharp blow to the Saint s humility 
and habits of silence, but obedience prevented her from 
opposing such a direct command ; so, falling on her knees 
at the feet of her spiritual father, she humbly begged his 
pardon for never having revealed her interior graces to 
him, and (says the author of the anonymous life) "con 
fessed with great simplicity and frankness that it had never 



AND HER COMMUNITY 51 

entered her head that she might be deceived in such matters 
by the devil." * Then, amid tears and sobs, and with such 
confusion as might have been shown by a criminal from 
whom a confession was being wrung, she told him about 
all the apparitions she had had of our Lord, of the Blessed 
Virgin, and of the Saints ; about the holy instructions that 
she had received in such visions on the great mysteries of 
religion; and about the injunctions that had been laid upon 
her. Lastly, she described the effect of all these visions 
how, after at first having given her a certain sense of fear, 
they had always ended by filling her soul with deep peace, 
intense joy, and great love of God. 

Father Timoteo, on hearing all this, was too wise to 
show the pleasure he inwardly felt at such an account, given 
by a soul so full of innocence and so truly dear to his own 
heart. He even pretended at first to think them all delu 
sions, and told his niece that such visions were only traps 
laid by the infernal spirit to attract and mislead souls. 
Then, to put her on her guard in future, he ordered her 
positively to make the sign of the Cross over every spirit, 
or figure, that might appear to her; and to receive all such 
apparitions with marks of nothing but contempt. Cathe 
rine, we are told, exclaimed naively at this: "What! Father, 
do you tell me I am to show marks of contempt to Jesus 
Christ, and to His holy Mother and the Saints? Is it pos 
sible? " But she only got from her uncle in reply a severe 
reproof, and the observation that God and His saints love 
what springs from obedience before all things, so that a con 
temptuous sign ordered by this can be nothing in their 
eyes ; whilst the devil, being the embodiment of pride and 
disobedience, cannot endure contempt. The holy man next 
appointed the very sister who, it may be remembered, she 
had long ago been told in a vision would one day be her 
special superior Sister Maddalena Strozzi to be her per 
sonal guardian and mistress, from whom she was to con 
ceal nothing that happened to her interiorly ; and he con 
cluded the interview by strictly enjoining her to come 
every evening, before she went to bed, to give him an ac- 

* Vita tAnonimO) ch. ix, p. 65. 



52 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

count of whatever she had heard or seen by means of visions 
or ecstasies throughout the day. 

Poor Catherine seems to have been greatly overwhelmed 
by this close examination into her state and these orders, 
and to have felt herself, though in a different form, once 
more the object of mistrust. The hitherto unknown fears, 
too, which had been aroused in her mind by Father Ti- 
moteo s words, and the idea that she might possibly be 
deceived by the devil, were naturally more terrible to such 
a soul than any of the trials she had had before. Indeed, 
she hardly knew how to bear a state of things which com 
pelled her actually to dread the coming of heavenly favours, 
and to try even to repel the inspirations of the Holy Spirit 
and the familiar intercourse of the Divine Spouse. Mean 
time, she was not spared fresh sufferings and trials of ex 
terior kind. About six months after her cure, towards the 
end of October in 1 540, she was attacked with smallpox, 
which was just then raging in Prato in a peculiarly violent 
form. It exhausted the strength of its victims, so as to 
bring them to death s door, with extreme rapidity and the 
accompaniment of sharp pains. The whole monastery was 
in consternation when Catherine fell ill of this disease 
not so much on account of the complaint itself and its 
mortal nature, as because it seemed so inexplicable that 
this pure soul should again have such severe treatment 
from Providence. The sisters even began to doubt whether 
the former cure had been a true miracle, and to frighten 
themselves with the thought that perhaps it had been a de 
moniacal work. 

The Saint had been lying between life and death, in 
great agony, for nearly a month, when she was once more 
cured after much the same manner as before, only being 
this time, she believed, awakened from sleep by a sudden 
touch, and beholding again the same three friars who had 
appeared to her in her sleep on Savonarola s feast. The 
one whom she had formerly held to be Fra Girolamo him 
self again cured her by the sign of the Cross, after making 
her acknowledge that she wished to have her health re 
stored if it was the will of God ; but on this occasion he is 



AND HER COMMUNITY 53 

described as healing her gradually, by making the sacred 
sign over her several times, and as afterwards forbidding 
her to leave her cell (which she was on the point of doing 
at once) until she had leave from the infirmarian to do so 
to which prohibition he added an exhortation to be al 
ways obedient in the smallest things, patient in trial, and 
humble before God. 

This fresh miracle set the returning doubts of the 
Community entirely at rest, and increased the respect that 
they had begun to feel for God s great designs on Cathe 
rine s soul, after her first cure. The sisters appear to have 
been somewhat ashamed of their inclination to rash judge 
ment, and anxious to second the Saint s gratitude to God 
for her restoration by joining most earnestly in the thanks 
that she offered to our Lord. In the fervour of her grati 
tude, Catherine wrote a Lauda^ or song of praise and 
thanks, to the three holy friars, Girolamo, Domenico and 
Silvestro, in which she gave full vent to her feelings of 
love and veneration for her "Founder" and his com 
panions. 

But even now the end had not come of Catherine s 
troubles, physical or mental. From this latter part of 1540 
to the end of 1541 being till just over five years from 
her Profession she was constantly subjected to sharp 
sufferings, interior and exterior, of a kind clearly inflicted 
by God as the immediate means of that absolutely perfect 
purification necessary for her special calling. Innocent and 
holy as she might be, there was evidently still left some 
small remnant of self that must be pressed out, no matter 
at what cost, before peace could come. 

As regards bodily sufferings during this year, three are 
particularly mentioned. 

First, an extraordinary pain in the teeth, of which she 
is said to have been miraculously cured by the intervention 
of Fra Girolamo, and then, within a short interval, two 
strange illnesses, which took the form of sudden poisoning, 
with most violent internal pains, great swelling of the body, 
tremblings, and convulsions. Of these, also, she was mira 
culously cured : the first time, Razzi tells us, by a vision 



54 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



of St Thomas Aquinas, who not only cured her, but filled 
her with consolation, exhorted her to go oftener to Commu 
nion, and told her that her prayers had delivered her mo 
ther s soul from Purgatory ; the second time, through the 
application by Maddalena Strozzi of Savonarola s relic.* 

These two attacks appear both to have taken place to 
wards the end of her five years probation ; but before this 
time Catherine had been undergoing a course of terrible 
trials of a more directly spiritual kind than had yet been 
her lot. These came from the enemy of souls himself, with 
out some attempts from whose jealousy and malice it was 
not likely that such a soul would long remain ; and of 
whose subtle deceits, moreover, it was doubtless as neces 
sary that she should learn something as it was for her to 
experience purely human troubles. Satan, F. Filippo Guidi 
tells us, attacked Catherine in two different ways. First, he 
attempted to hinder her from praying, by those external 
means that one so often hears of his being allowed to em 
ploy against very holy people : by noises, horrible sights, 
disgusting odours, and even actual shaking of the place that 
she was praying in ; whilst she sometimes also heard him, 
as if full of bitter grief, entreating her to be satisfied with 
making him powerless against herself, and not to snatch the 
souls of others from his grasp. 

But these open attacks, her biographer goes on to say, 
were nothing at all to the Saint compared to the spiritual 
snares and subtle illusions with which he next took to be 
sieging her. He was allowed so to counterfeit the inward 
operations of grace as very nearly to draw her into all sorts 
of imprudent excesses in her devotions, and to produce 
appearances of heavenly visions so overpowering in their 
splendour that any less perfectly humble and watchful soul 
than Catherine might have been quite deceived. She, how 
ever, having light to see through the deception, felt only 
most intense grief and mistrust of self under these attacks, 
and redoubled the fervour of her entreaties to God. At last, 
we are told, the devil made a peculiarly bold attempt by 
appearing to her in the form of St Peter with his keys, 

* Seraf; Razzi, lib. II, cap. vi, pp. 63, 64. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 55 

on the eve of the great Apostle s feast in 1541 ; when the 
glory and venerableness of his aspect were so great that she 
at first forgot her prescribed custom of making the sign of 
the cross and showing contempt as a test, and for a few 
minutes gazed trembling and awestruck at the vision. Satan 
took advantage of this to deliver, in the capacity of the 
saint, an exhortation so strange in conception that it is 
worth giving a full account of. He is described as having 
spoken in a tone of " gentle remonstrance and noble gra 
vity," and as if filled with interest in the monastery. He 
reproached Catherine, and the other nuns too, for putting 
their trust so exclusively in the protectors that they had 
chosen for themselves in heaven, as this made them neg 
lect seeking help from man. He said it was tempting God 
and the saints ; and that it was exacting too much from the 
latter to try to draw them away from the enjoyment of their 
eternal happiness and glory, and get them to be always 
occupying themselves with the wretched, petty affairs of 
this world. It would be much wiser and more according 
to the right order of Providence as well for them to keep 
within their appointed earthly sphere, and to seek protec 
tors and patrons amongst the rich and powerful here below, 
who were far better able to appreciate their needs, and to 
supply them. 

By such language coming apparently from one of the 
Blessed themselves it is easy to understand that the evil 
one overshot his mark. Its impiety and blasphemy her 
momentary delusion once over struck Catherine s heart 
with a shock through all its disguise of holy-sounding ac 
cents; and, horrified, she made the sign of the Cross, call 
ing for God s help with all her might, when the wolf in 
sheep s clothing speedily took to flight by disappearing with 
all his apparent glory. 

Then followed still according to Guidi a reward of 
the young saint s faithfulness and humility. This false vi 
sion left her in a state of utter depression and sadness 
not merely because of this particular attack itself, but be 
cause she felt so cast down and terrified at the thought of 
being constantly exposed to such temptation, and in danger 



5 6 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

of falling. Unable to bear the prospect of future trials of 
the kind, she determined on one tremendous act of confi 
dence in God whereby to call down His special mercy on 
her state of trouble. She flung herself then and there at the 
feet of her crucifix, resolved not to rise until she had re 
ceived the grace of final delivery from her fears ; and there 
she spent the whole night, in such trusting and fervent 
prayer that our Lord could not deny Himself to so much 
love. He not only appeared to her with the greatest and 
most comforting aspect and manner, but He crowned His 
favours by giving her a solemn promise that she should 
never be the victim of Satan s treacherous deceits.* 

* Filippo Guidi, cap. xxxiv, pp. 78-80. 




THE ORATORY AT SAN VINCENZIO ONCE THE SAINT S CELL- 



AND HER COMMUNITY 57 



CHAPTER VI 

Some joys accompanying these trials Our Lord changes Catherine s heart 
The beginning of her great ecstasy of the Passion 

THE time of sharp trial, just recorded as having lasted with 
more or less severity for the five first years of Catherine s 
professed life, was not without its notable alleviations in the 
form of supernatural joys. Besides the wonderful Divine 
promise recounted at the end of the last chapter concern 
ing her diabolical temptations, several most consoling vi 
sions, or other marvellous visitations, are narrated as having 
been sent to rejoice the Saint s heart in the midst of her 
sufferings; and these seem to have been especially frequent 
in the last year of the five. For instance to take a few of 
the most notable mentioned by Razzi when she was offer 
ing very earnest thanks, in the chapel, on Christmas Day, 
1 540, for the two miraculous cures that she believed due 
to Savonarola s intercession, a very beautiful appearance of 
Our Lady with the Sacred Infant in her arms, and seem 
ingly accompanied by Fra Girolamo, is recorded, when 
Catherine was allowed to take the Holy Child into her 
arms. 

Another vision of our Lady and the saints but, this 
time, surrounding our Lord Himself in all the glory of 
His Resurrection is said to have taken place on the Whit 
Tuesday following, in the dormitory corridor, and to have 
completely dazzled her by its brilliancy. This vision was 
the cause of a miraculous occurrence that immediately fol 
lowed it namely, of a gentle reproach, uttered next morn 
ing through the figure of our Lord which Catherine had 
detached from the cross of her cell crucifix, the better to 
contemplate and lovingly adore it. A voice, seeming to 
come from this figure, admonished the holy young nun 
that she had committed a fault of disobedience, in having 
decided that it was not necessary to go and tell her confessor 



58 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

about the vision that had appeared to her the day before, 
because none of the saints had spoken to her. Catherine, we 
are told, melted into tears at such a reproach, with heart 
felt entreaties for pardon ; and we may safely conclude that 
she never again committed an act that could offend in the 
slightest degree against Religious obedience. 

Again, in the early part of 41, the saint is recorded to 
have been miraculously confessed by a father sent from 
heaven, who took the form of her Uncle Timoteo, the 
community confessor, when the latter was really absent 
from Prato. A similar miracle is related of St Elizabeth of 
Hungary, who had St John the Baptist to hear her con 
fession : only in Catherine s case it was not a canonized 
saint whom she believed to have been thus sent, but once 
more the "Holy Father and Founder" of her convent, 
Fra Girolamo.^ 

But, of all the visions related as having been granted 
to the holy maiden during this period, the one of most 
interest and importance, as being immediately related to 
the great purpose for which she was being prepared, is the 
following, which we give as verbally taken from Razzi : 

" It was the Friday before Palm Sunday, in the begin 
ning of April, 1541. Catherine had gone after dinner into 
a chapel in the garden, to gain a weekly plenary indulgence 
which Pope Paul III had attached to a large cross that was 
put up there. When she reached the threshold she raised 
her eyes, and saw before her three crosses instead of one ; 
and on the middle one she beheld our Lord Jesus Christ 
in so torturing an attitude that, from the violent shock 
caused by her first sight of it, she all but fainted with grief. 
However, making a great effort, she went nearer to the 
cross, and there looked close at a lamentable sight indeed. 
Our divine Lord s head, as though almost severed from 
the neck, hung down on His breast in such a manner that 
His face rested upon it. The breast so protruded that 
all the ribs appeared to be dislocated. His hair here and 
there in disorder fell partly over His face, and streamed 
with blood, as did His beard also. From the large opening 

* Razzi, lib. II, cap. iv and v. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 59 

in His side the blood gushed forth as from a fountain. All 
the rest of His body, torn and bruised, was covered with 
livid spots and clotted blood. His hands were stretched so 
far above His body that it seemed as if flesh and bone 
must soon break apart, whilst the body itself weighed 
down towards earth appeared on the point of falling. At 
the foot of the cross was a pool of blood, around which 
some women were moaning and wailing. 

Poor Sister Catherine, finding herself in presence of 
such a heartrending spectacle, was torn with inward con 
flict : on one hand, she did not feel courage to endure the 
sight, and on the other she had not, at first, strength to 
leave the spot. At last, recommending herself to God, she 
tore herself away as best she could; and having, with great 
difficulty, got back to her cell, she was forced to take to 
her bed, utterly crushed with the force and anguish of the 
sensations she had undergone; and there she had to remain 
for ten days, suffering an actual illness from the compas 
sion that had overwhelmed her for her crucified God.* 

Catherine understood from this vision that the great 
est sufferings of her life were to come and that before 
long from union with the Passion of her Divine Spouse; 
but (Razzi goes on to tell us) on rising from the sick-bed 
to which her grief had brought her she was almost imme 
diately consoled and strengthened by a second apparition, 
typical of the joy that should follow her future sufferings. 
In this vision St Mary Magdalen appeared, and led the 
awe-struck maiden into the presence of Christ, standing in 
her own cell amid the dazzling light set forth by His glo 
rified body. She was allowed to approach and kiss His sa 
cred feet and the wounds in His side; and she offered 
humble petitions for her Religious Sisters, that they might 
be always protected from the snares of the devil. After this, 
our Lord dismissed her at sound of the office bell.f 

We come next to one of the greatest events of the 
saint s early Religious life, which took place on June 6 in 
the same year 1541. This was no less than that marvel 
lous mystical transformation that had also been formerly 

* Razzi, lib. II, cap. v, pp. 59, 60. f Ibid, p. 61. 



6o ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

worked in Catherine s namesake of Siena, and that took 
place during her own century in St Philip Neri the mys 
terious event of a change of heart. Sister Catherine de Ricci 
is said by Razzi to have prayed, like her predecessor and 
her contemporary, that God would give her " a new heart, 
all divine and heavenly"; and she received this signal fa 
vour on the feast of Corpus Christi. 

The account given of the occurrence is that on the 
morning of that day, after receiving Holy Communion, she 
was rapt in spirit into heaven. There it seemed to her that 
the glorious Queen of Angels presented her to our Lord 
Jesus Christ, begging Him, with humble insistence, to be 
graciously pleased to change Catherine s heart, as she had 
so long desired. The Son of God heard and granted His 
august Mother s prayer without delay. Then did the Saint, 
in one of those transports of love such as the Blessed ex 
perience, feel something mysterious take place within her 
heart; and she was conscious at the same time of what felt 
like a flood of entirely new life coursing suddenly through 
her veins. The Divine Redeemer had in that moment taken 
away her heart and given her a new one, formed on the 
model of that of His most holy Mother, the Virgin Mary.* 

An immense and unspeakable joy seized hold of Ca 
therine when she thus found herself in possession of an 
other life of a fresh existence, in fact far superior to her 
former one. This was no illusion caused by her miraculous 
presence in the home of the Blessed; for, when she had re 
gained her senses and come back to earth, she saw clearly 
that it was a real blessing and gift of the Divine bounty. 
She felt her soul still so raised above earthly things and so 
illuminated as to the things of God, that she seemed to be 
living no longer in this dreary world, but in the abode of 
eternal light. Accustomed as she had already become, from 
the heights of contemplation to which her Divine Spouse 
had led her, to gazing on marvellous visions from the eter 
nal regions, yet the summits whither this new heart seemed 
to carry her opened out of her spiritual sight such marvels 
as made her declare " that she did not know herself." In 

* Ra^zi, lib. II, cap. vi, p. 63. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 61 

short, she seems to have experienced something of the 
burning love and fervour bestowed by the Holy Ghost on 
the Apostles in the Cenacle. She never tired of declaring 
that she was now living in a climate and breathing 
an atmosphere not of this world, and that this heavenly 
air had become the food of her new life.* It was to her 
faithful guardian, Sister Maddalena, that she made (as in 
duty bound) these confidences; and, after talking about her 
wonderful state, Razzi says that she would protest to her 
devoted mistress: " No! you must no longer call my heart 
Catherine s heart you must call it the heart of the glorious 
Virgin Mary!" 

Now, however great may be the beauty and however 
sublime the perfection of those seraphic souls on whom 
Christ is pleased to bestow such extraordinary favours as 
these, they are not usually granted except to those whom 
God predestines for some public mission in the Church; 
and just in this way did our Lord act with regard to Saint 
Catherine de Ricci. When He took away her heart, and 
gave her another like to that of the Blessed Virgin, He gave 
her also a public office corresponding to the grace. This 
office was to reproduce, in her own person, after the pattern 
of His Mother at the foot of the Cross, all the actions of 
Jesus Christ when He saved the world through the suffer 
ings of His Passion. This great mystery of our redemption 
always has been, and always will be, the abiding object of 
contemplation for Christian souls. All saints in turn have 
in some form followed the bleeding path to Calvary, there 
to kiss His footsteps and to water them with their tears; 
and many amongst them have had the privilege of either 
receiving the sacred Stigmata, or of partially showing His 
pains by some other means, in their own bodies. But since 
the most holy Virgin herself felt every separate suffering 
of her Son by attending Him to the cross and the tomb, 
our historians declare that none of the saints no matter 
how they might have suffered with and for Christ, nor even 
though they had been honoured with the Stigmata had 
ever before reproduced the mystery of the Compassion to the 

* Sandrini, lib. I, cap. xvii, p. 61. 



62 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

same degree as Catherine de Ricci was called to do: none 
had personally retraced, as she did, all its incidents. 

It was on the first Thursday of February, 1542, that 
Catherine then twenty years old had, for the first time, 
this wonderful ecstasy which was destined to be renewed 
every week until the year 1554. Beginning always on a 
Thursday at noon, it went on till four o clock on Friday 
evening, thus lasting twenty-eight hours. 

The following was the regular order of this marvellous 
phenomenon : 

It began with the touching scene of separation between 
Jesus and His Mother, which lasted four hours, during 
which Catherine heard the Son and Mother discourse on 
the great mystery about to be wrought. 

At four o clock, she followed Jesus as He set out from 
Bethany for Jerusalem; and, on the way, she listened to the 
wonderful words in which He described to His disciples, 
that He might strengthen them, all the details of the forth 
coming events. On entering the city, she went towards 
Mount Sion, where the Cenacle was. 

She entered this sacred room at five o clock, and was 
present at the Last Supper, at the washing of feet, at the 
institution of the Holy Eucharist, and at that beautiful 
discourse which followed, up to the words : "Arise! let us 
go." These different actions took up two hours. 

At seven o clock she left the Cenacle and wended her 
way to the Mount of Olives, preceding our Lord and His 
disciples. 

Jesus waited a few minutes in the house close by the 
Garden of Gethsemane ; and it was eight o clock when 
Catherine followed Him as He entered the Garden. For 
three hours she watched, as all the phases of the Great 
Mystery of the Agony were gone through Our Saviour s 
prayer, prostrate on the ground ; His repugnance, and 
His resignation, before the chalice of His Passion ; the 
angel s apparition, and the bloody sweat. 

At eleven o clock she beheld Jesus, feeling that His 
enemies were near, rise, and go to seek His disciples ; and 
for half-an-hour she heard Him exhorting them to watch 



AND HER COMMUNITY 63 

and pray. Then Judas arrived with his band of soldiers ; 
she saw them felled to the earth by our Lord s word, and 
was then present at the flight of His disciples, at His arrest, 
and at all the insults heaped upon him up to the hour of 
midnight. 

At that hour they started for Jerusalem, and reached 
the house of Annas at one o clock in the morning. There 
she was witness of the questions put to Jesus which lasted 
half-an-hour and of the blow given to Him by the High 
Priest s servant. 

Another half-hour was taken up in going to the tribu 
nal of Caiphas, and waiting there for his hour of giving 
audience. 

It was not until two in the morning that Jesus appeared 
before Caiphas. His interrogations and appeals, the testi 
mony of the false witnesses, and the hypocritical indigna 
tion which caused the chief priest to tear his garments, 
lasted a little over an hour. 

A little after three o clock Catherine followed Jesus to 
Pilate s judgement seat, before which (having taken some 
little time in going and in waiting) they actually appeared 
only at about a quarter to four. This corresponded to St 
John s statement, when he says that it was "morning" 
erat autem mane. 

Pilate questioned our Blessed Lord for half-an-hour, 
and then sent Him back to Herod. The latter contemptu 
ously sent Him back after another half-hour s examination, 
which including the time of the walk caused Him to 
reappear before Pilate at half-past five. This magistrate, 
knowing the wickedness and treachery of the Jews, inter 
rogated Jesus yet once more for half-an-hour, trying to 
find some means of getting Him out of their hands with 
out compromising himself. But he yielded at last like 
a coward to their threatening clamour, and condemned Him 
to be tied to the column, there to undergo the torture of 
scourging. This cruel punishment, begun at six o clock, 
only came to an end at a quarter past seven. 

The instant it was over the saint beheld the soldiers 
press round Jesus to crown Him with thorns. She said 



64 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

that out of respect for this sacred crown, our Redeemer 
placed Himself reverently on His knees to receive it. The 
soldiers, however, soon compelled Him to sit down, that 
they might insult Him the more easily ; when they put a 
reed in His hand, spit on Him, and did all those insult 
ing acts described in holy Scripture. 

At eight o clock, she saw Pilate take Jesus from the 
soldiers hands, and present Him to the people, saying, 
Ecce Homo. Then she witnessed all the fluctuations of that 
feeble soul, wavering between the innocence of the divine 
Prisoner and the furious demands of the mob which called 
for His blood. 

She heard the sentence of death pronounced upon our 
Lord at half-past nine, and watched them spend half-an-hour 
in preparing the instrument of His execution. It was ten 
o clock on Friday morning when they presented Him with 
His Cross ; and she saw Him humbly bend His sacred 
shoulders to receive it, and carrying it painfully up the 
steep ascent of Calvary, not without falling several times 
under the weight. He reached the summit of the moun 
tain at eleven, and an hour was spent in first making the 
needful preparations and in then stripping Him of His 
garments and nailing Him on His gibbet of shame. 

At the second noon of her ecstasy, Catherine beheld 
the Cross raised upright, and gazed on Jesus hanging there 
alive, for three whole hours, between the anger of heaven 
and the outrages and blasphemies sent up to Him from 
earth. 

He died at three o clock ; and at four His body was 
taken down from the Cross and placed in the arms of His 
forlorn mother. 

At that moment the saint came out of her ecstasy, hav 
ing not only beheld, but suffered in her own soul and body, 
every act of our Lord Jesus Christ throughout His most 
painful Passion an agony that, as His faithful spouse, 
she was to experience, not once only, but every week for 
twelve years of her life. 

In this ecstasy, as in all her others, Catherine s face 
wore a supernatural splendour and a majestic expression 



AND HER COMMUNITY 65 

proper to an angelic countenance alone,* which inspired 
those who looked upon her with both deep respect and a 
strong attraction for the things of God. But whilst, in her 
usual states of rapture, she remained motionless her eyes 
fixed, and no sign visible of what she felt except changes 
from pallor to crimson in her face, according to the emo 
tions she might be going through in her ecstasy of the 
Passion her body moved in conformity with the gestures, 
attitudes and all the various motions of our Lord s own 
body throughout His sufferings. For instance, she held 
out her hands as if to be bound, at the hour of His cap 
ture; she stood majestically upright to represent His fasten 
ing to the pillar for the scourging ; bent her head as though 
to receive the crown of thorns; and so with all other inci 
dents of the Passion. She adopted all these attitudes and 
made all these movements with such gentle gravity and 
modesty as to call to mind that divine Lamb prophesied 
of by Isaias who should be "dumb before the shearers" 
and should "open not His mouth before the slaughterer." 

When all outward action was suspended, the spectators 
knew by the words she used what part of the sacred drama 
she had reached. Thus, in the calm and solemn time of its 
beginning, she was evidently in the house at Bethany, be 
cause words fell from her lips such as Jesus might address 
to His Mother in bidding her farewell. Again, a shudder 
ing of her form, with a cry to her Creator to spare her, 
betrayed the agony when the terrible sufferings were ap 
proaching; whilst soon afterwards she was heard to offer 
herself unreservedly to Jesus, that she might share His 
pains to the full extent of His holy will; and, later on still, 
she would call on her divine Spouse to help her in bearing 
the heavy weight of the cross, and wonder "how He could 
have borne it Himself, tender and delicate as He was!"f 

Often she would take occasion from the various suffer 
ings of Jesus Christ to address fervent exhortations to her 
sisters on the fulfilment of their Rule and the practise of 
monastic virtues, which she did with a knowledge, lofti 
ness of thought and eloquence not to be expected from a 

* Compendia della Vita, etc., cap. iv, p. 21. t Vita Anonima, cap. viii, p. 57. 

5 



66 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

woman, and especially from a woman neither learned nor 
literary so says one of her historians ; and he adds that 
one would have thought that a consummate theologian or 
father of the Church was speaking. The same historian also 
says that she would speak during these ecstasies in different 
characters, i.e., sometimes in the person of Christ, some 
times in that of His Mother or of St Dominic, and some 
times again in her own name and that she would vary her 
voice accordingly. Again, he tells us that at times she broke 
forth into ejaculations or invocations to her divine Spouse 
so full of burning love, or compassion for His sufferings, 
that her hearers could not but feel themselves extra 
ordinarily inflamed with love of God; whilst sometimes 
she would speak directly to sinners, reproaching them 
with ingratitude, and moving any who might happen to 
be present to tears of tender compunction. She prayed also 
at intervals most fervently for her sisters in religion both 

tiving thanks for them and begging pardon for their 
lults; for the universal Church and all its needs; for the 
remission of all sin; and lastly for herself, that she might 
not become the victim of Satan by means of some secret 
fault existing beneath all these heavenly favours.* 

Notwithstanding the saint s abstraction from whatever 
was passing round her during this ecstasy, if any one pre 
sent thought of begging some particular grace from God, 
or merely of asking His blessing by the hand of His servant, 
her arm while the rest of her body still remained motion 
less immediately moved towards the person who had thus 
prayed, and she made the sign of the cross over the suppli 
cant. This action, it is said, inspired all who saw it with 
a sense of mingled awe and fear, as at a divine apparition; 
for it was felt that God Himself .had instantly answered 
a secret thought of the heart by His faithful handmaiden s 
agency. 

This marvellous contemplation of Sister Catherine s 
always went on uninterrupted for its full course of twenty- 
eight hours, save for the one break of her receiving holy 
Communion. When this time arrived, her soul came down 

* Vita Anonima^ cap. viii, pp. 57-59. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 67 

from the heights of rapture, and she reassumed her senses 
to honour Jesus Christ in the sacrament of His body and 
blood; but after having received it, she was rapt again into 
her ecstasy at the point where she had quitted it. We are 
told that every time this hour of Communion recurred, it 
was announced to those in the house by a delightful per 
fume which seemed to exhale from her body, and which 
scented the whole quarter of the convent that she inhabited, 
thus making known her longing to receive her Lord, which 
was at once complied with. 

When at last the great ecstasy was over, she came forth 
from it even as a brave soldier comes off the battle-field: 
her body covered with the wounds she had received in this 
glorious combat of love and suffering. The bleeding signs 
of likeness to her crucified Spouse were imprinted on her 
whole person, which bore visible marks of the scourging, 
of the thorn-crown, of the crucifixion, and even of the 
cords they had used to take Him down from the cross.* 

rtta sliionima, cap. viii, p. <g. 



68 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



CHAPTER VII 

The Ecstasy of the Passion is examined by the Provincial and by the 
General of the Order Their favourable verdict Other doubts set 
at rest The "Canticle of the Passion" revealed to Catherine 

So considerable a phenomenon as the ecstasy just described 
could not, of course, fail to produce an enormous sensation 
in San Vincenzio s Convent. From the first day that it oc 
curred, in fact, the house may be described as having been 
literally turned upside down not, however, as might per 
haps be supposed, by any hasty, enthusiastic excitement, 
but rather by a general feeling of truly religious fear and 
mistrust. The holy women who formed the community 
were too really wise, and the marvel was too great a one, 
for them to adopt a blind belief in its divine authenticity. 
Accustomed to put into practice St John the Evangelist s 
advice with regard to supernatural gifts, which advice re 
quires that they should be tested before acceptance, the 
nuns reserved their opinions all the more completely that 
they felt the grace to be so extremely wonderful if it were 
really authentic. Through humility, they dared not hope 
this ; through love for their Sister Catherine, and for the 
honour of their monastery, they dreaded nothing so much 
as a deception. Never before had they felt so closely 
threatened by some appalling artifice of Satan s. Thus, 
throughout the community, there burst forth one great 
explosion, so to speak, of prayer against such a possible 
misfortune. 

Apart from the general good, there was not a single 
Religious in the house who did not shudder at the very 
thought that so holy and humble a soul should become 
the sport of the devil ; and nobody was so anxiously con 
cerned about this as the saint herself. It was touching to 
see her, on coming out of her ecstasies, throw herself pro 
strate at the feet of her companions, and entreat them, 
with tears, to obtain for her by the fervour of their prayers 



AND HER COMMUNITY 69 

what she feared she could not get by her own. The supe 
riors of the convent, on their part, did all they could by 
recommending the strictest discretion in speech to prevent 
any account of the wonder from getting prematurely known 
outside ; but Providence, apparently intending the ecstasy 
to be made public, defeated their precautions, and allowed 
the matter whether by means of pupils in the school who 
found it out and reported to their parents, or by seculars 
who came into the convent for employment and gossipped 
in the town, was not known to get bruited so universally 
in Prato that it soon reached Florence, and came to the 
ears of the Father Provincial of the Roman Dominican 
province, to whom the chief jurisdiction of San Vincenzio 
belonged. This office was held just then by Padre Fran 
cesco Romeo di Castiglione, a worthy son of San Marco s 
in his piety, zeal for regular observance, and remarkable 
learning; all of which qualities caused him to be raised 
later on to the dignity of General of the whole Order, and 
to become one of the most noted theologians in the Coun 
cil of Trent. Hearing all these rumours from Prato, which 
came to him accidentally and without any official notice 
from the convent, he felt disagreeably impressed, fearing 
that premature reports of such things might turn to the 
discredit of the monastery and the whole Order, should 
time reveal the reported ecstasies to be false. Accordingly, 
faithful to the duty of his office, and determined to see 
how the land lay, he straightway betook himself to the 
spot. He certainly lost no time; for Catherine s great 
ecstasies dated only from the beginning of February, 1542, 
and by the end of that month he was at Prato to jud^e 
them ! His visit, with the severe punishments that might 
possibly come in its train, was officially announced before 
hand ; and the announcement is said by Razzi to have pro 
duced a striking instance both of the saint s lowliness and 
of the high place she held in the esteem of those who knew 
her intimately. He recounts that, when the news arrived, 
she went straight to her dear mistress and confidante, and, 
with humble and charming simplicity, said to her: "Mo 
ther, if somebody comes to punish me for my trances 



70 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

(as she called her ecstasies), and condemns me to prison, 
I am quite ready to go there, and to suffer everything for 
the love of Jesus. Only, I entreat you, do manage so that 
they may put me somewhere that will not frighten me too 
much ! Let the cell be as narrow and wretched as you like 
1 shall not mind that, for I know I deserve nothing 
else ; but I should love you more than ever if you would 
only be so good as to keep me company there, and not 
leave me all alone ! " The confidante was well worthy of 
such a sweet and gentle soul ; for she went to Catherine s 
uncle, Fra Timoteo, and thus expressed her feelings : 
" Father, I assure you that if they were to shut me up in 
a dark, narrow prison with your niece I should rejoice at 
it, and think myself happy ; for, with her, the most hor 
rible dungeon would be to me a garden of delights, know 
ing as I do how pleasing that soul is to God, and how dear 
to His Heart!"* 

Arrived at San Vincenzio, then, this learned and austere 
provincial ordered the humble Catherine to be brought 
before him. Being thoroughly impregnated with the strict 
est principles of Catholic theology concerning raptures 
and ecstasies knowing how easily the devil can simulate 
true ones for the purpose of instigating their subjects to 
pride and self-complacency he at once began, with stern 
countenance and harsh voice, both to interrogate her se 
verely and to heap reproaches on her as though she were 
a convicted criminal. He told her that she was disturbing 
the monastery by getting up extravagant scenes under 
pretence of visions and ecstasies; that she was nothing but 
a vain hypocrite, wanting to pose as a saint through con 
temptible means, that she might get credit ; and that even 
if she did see anything in her pretended visions, this was 
merely a diabolical illusion, wrought by the enemy of her 
salvation that he might the more surely drag her to eternal 
death. He even accused the poor girl of having made 
a compact with the prince of this world and the father of 
lies. He went on to add, however, that no matter how 
great her crimes if she felt touched by repentance and 

* Seraf. Razzi, lib. Ill, cap. iii, p. 107. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 71 

would promise to give up all these dangerous deceits, 
he would undertake to pardon her, to forget the past, and 
to give her his protection for the future. If she refused to 
submit, she must expect to be put under a ban in the 
monastery, and to be separated from her sisters in short, 
to be subjected to whatever severe penalties might be ne 
cessary for the honour of God and the good of her own 
soul. 

Catherine listened to all this in calm silence; and, when 
the provincial had finished, replied gently and modestly. 
She said she quite acknowledged herself worthy of severe 
chastisement for her own sins ; but that, as to her "trances," 
having no share of her own in bringing them about, having 
never sought them, and being indeed subject to them 
against her will, she could not promise to abstain from 
them even if she wished. She added that, so far from having 
intentionally anything to do with the evil one, God was 
her witness that, from the time when baptism had given 
her to Jesus Christ, she had had no wish at all except to 
please and belong to Him, as the spouse of her soul. She 
knew well that, in spite of all this, the extraordinary things 
that had happened to her might of course be diabolical snares 
and delusions, in which case she most earnestly begged of 
her Redeemer, by His own tears and groans, to deliver 
her from them ; but that if they were in truth heavenly 
favours and gifts of His divine munificence, " then, she 
was not so entirely destitute of sense and intelligence as 
to wish to be deprived of graces which He Himself had 
thought well to bestow on her for her soul s salvation." 

The saint went on to say, further, that, whilst she be 
sought God to continue and to increase His favours, she 
also entreated Him to take away their outward signs, and 
everything that could bring her into public notice, seeing 
that the gifts of God could not but suffer in the eyes of 
the world by appearing in such a wretched and contemp 
tible creature as she was. She declared also that she had in 
cessantly begged the holy souls amongst whom she lived 

* Vita Anonima, cap. ix, p. 71. 



72 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

to pray for her with this object; but that in spite of their 
fervent and persistent intercession, coupled with the merits 
of their angelic lives, she had found her c trances, up to 
the present time, increase rather than diminish. 

Such was Catherine s reply ; and it so filled the nuns 
(who appear to have been present at the examination) with 
wonder at its heavenly wisdom that a report spread through 
the monastery that St Thomas Aquinas had come to her 
help with his advice, as her special advocate. Nobody, 
however, was so well able to appreciate its full purport as 
Padre Francesco himself. His mind was, as it were, dazzled 
by such an answer, and his heart then and there won over 
to Catherine s side. He could absolutely find nothing to 
say except a few words of affectionate encouragement; and 
was rising as if to conclude the interview without further 
delay, when the young saint herself pressed him, in the 
most humbly submissive terms, to pronounce a decision. 
Either because he did not wish to make a public pro 
nouncement, or because he simply wished to postpone 
formal judgement, the provincial tried at first to avoid 
a definite answer, and merely said : " Enough upon this 
subject! Let there be no further question about it." But 
Catherine, contrary to all her usual habits of timidity and 
respect, insisted. " Father," she said, " I am a little sheep 
of your flock, and you are the shepherd of my soul. Your 
duty is to enlighten and direct me, and mine is to obey 
you. I ask you to tell me whether I may be at peace in 
my conscience ? " 

This deference, spontaneously shown by a soul, just re 
turned from heavenly intercourse, to the visible hierarchy 
of the Church this strong and clearly-marked subordina 
tion of private judgement to the ver.dict of Christ s repre 
sentatives and successors in authority, even whilst that 
soul was flooded with supernatural light caused the man 
of God to throw aside at once any hesitation he might 
still have left as a theologian, and to give the humble vir 
gin the assurance she desired. " Take courage, my child/ 
he said, " and be at peace. There is no delusion in your 
state. God Himself is guiding you, and all the things that 



AND HER COMMUNITY 73 

you see and experience are graces of His divine bounty. 
Be humble and obedient. Never fail to reveal whatever 
passes within you to your confessor ; and I can safely as 
sure you that not only will you be free from fault, but 
that you will be pleasing to God in all your works." 

Having thus given his verdict on their reality, the 
Father Provincial wished to see, and be edified by, the 
actual form of the heavenly graces bestowed on Sister 
Catherine, and therefore waited to be present at the next 
occurrence of her ecstasy of the Passion. Having witnessed 
it, and been deeply moved and astonished by all its touch 
ing details, he who had come to the convent armed with 
intended punishments and energetic measures of repression 
went home, his heart overflowing with divine consola 
tion, and his mind full of joy and wonder at the great 
things that God works in His elect. He did not stay at 
Florence, but went straight on to Rome to make his re 
port to the general of the Order, who was at that time 
Padre Alberto de las Casas, a man of Spanish birth who 
became afterwards Legate of the Holy See. He was greatly 
struck by hearing such a man as Padre Francesco Romeo, 
with his high character and learning, assert such marvels 
of " the young saint of Prato," and decided at once to go 
there himself not so much for the sake of subjecting the 
facts stated to his own scrutiny, as for that of gaining the 
spiritual joy, and profit to his soul, which he thought such 
a rare and wonderful sight must cause. He was not dis 
appointed in his expectation. He saw the saint in her great 
ecstasy ; and he was so powerfully moved by the vivid 
representation of Jesus Christ suffering placed before him 
by her whilst going through it, that he could do nothing 
the whole time but shed tears of compunction and of love 
for his holy Redeemer.* When it was over, he offered 
humble thanks to the Lord, and said to those who had 
accompanied him that " there was nothing to doubt about 
in this soul, but everything to revere." f 

After her ecstasy he had an interview with Catherine, 
and was charmed by her simplicity and humility: the more 

* Sandrini, lib. I, cap. xiv, p. 58. f Ibid. p. 53. 



74 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

so, that there was joined to these qualities a graceful play 
fulness of manner that was most lovable. But what he ad 
mired most of all was the holy attractiveness of her con 
versation, which turning entirely on the things of God 
so insensibly wove its invisible meshes round her listeners 
that no soul who heard her could escape being strongly 
drawn by sympathy to share her love of our Divine Lord. 
" No! " he exclaimed, as he left her, " this is no mere girl 
that we have heard it is a true seraph."* 

The appearance of these two chief authorities of the 
Order at Prato, coming immediately after each other to give 
their sanction to the workings of grace in Sister Catherine, 
produced its natural effect within as well as without the 
monastery; and the general opinion decided at once in her 
favour. Nevertheless, certain individual protests of incre 
dulous views were still to be made, and that for some time 
to come, amid the nearly universal faith of admiration. 

One great example of these sceptical minds, convinced 
in spite of himself, was the immediate successor to Francesco 
di Castiglione Padre Nicolo Michelozzi, the next pro 
vincial. Hardly had he taken in hand the government of 
the province than he took advantage of his position to go 
and judge for himself of these strange things, so that he 
might have the last word on the reported ecstasies of the 
wonderful sister. Arriving one Friday at San Vincenzio, he 
happened to meet Euphrasia Mascalzoni, a sister extremely 
devoted to the saint, and he asked her at once what "Sister 
Catherine " was doing at that moment. Euphrasia replied: 
" She is in her state of ecstasy, and is sitting with her hand 
over her face." 

Then the provincial, forming a secret wish in his heart, 
said to the young sister: 

"Very well! Now do you go into her cell, and there 
place yourself on your knees right in front of her, with your 
hands beneath your scapular; notice carefully what she does, 
and then come and tell me." 

The sister obeyed. Hardly had she taken up her posi 
tion in front of Catherine than the latter raised her right 

* Ibid. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 



75 



hand, and blessed Euphrasia three times by making three 
signs of the Cross on her forehead; then, having taken her 
in her arms and kissed her affectionately, she sent her away. 
When the sister came and repeated all this to Padre Miche- 
lozzi, he was compelled to give immediate homage to the 
Spirit of God dwelling within the saint for she had ex 
actly performed all the actions that he had privately wished 
her to do! 

But the most wonderful fact recorded, of this kind, is 
the conversion from incredulity of the same Sister Euphra- 
sia s own sister, Gabriella Mascalzoni. She was also devo 
tedly fond of the saint, and suffered greatly at heart from 
feeling unable to believe in her ecstasies. One day Cathe 
rine, meeting Gabriella at the door of a little oratory in the 
convent, asked her the time; and when she replied that she 
did not know, begged her to go and look at the clock and 
bring back word. The saint then went into the Oratory, 
began to pray, and fell almost at once into an ecstasy. When 
Sister Gabriella came back and found her in this state 
there being no one else present to notice she fell on her 
knees before her holy companion, and fervently entreated 
our Lord to have pity on her, and to remove from her heart 
the hardness that made her always doubt about these rap 
tures. Then, raising her eyes to Catherine s face, what did 
she behold but the Face of Jesus Christ Himself, with the 
long hair and the beard belonging to our representations of 
Him! Seized with fear, the sister would have fled at the 
sight; but the saint without breaking through her ecstasy 
placed both hands on Euphrasia s shoulders and held her 
back, looking straight into her eyes. Then she said: "Who 
do you think I am? Jesus, or Catherine?" The poor child, 
yet more frightened now, gave a cry that was heard by many 
of the community; and all who had heard came hastily run 
ning into the Oratory, whilst Euphrasia felt constrained to 
make answer: " You are Jesus!" Three times did she have 
to give the same reply to the same question asked by the 
Estalica; and then an immense joy suddenly flooded her 
heart, for she had in that moment gained the absolute cer 
tainty of Catherine s great sanctity and the reality of her 



76 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

ecstasies. She afterwards told her companions that never in 
her whole life had she beheld any beauty to compare with 
the beauty of Christ s Face, as she saw it in the place of 
Catherine s.* 

Benedict XIV, speaking from that seat which has the 
privilege of passing infallible judgements on the actions of 
the saints, expresses himself as follows concerning this mar 
vellous phenomenon: 

"Jesus Christ, wishing to show how far the union of 
thought and will between Himself and Catherine reached, 
placed a glorious sign of it on her face, by transforming it 
to a living image and perfect likeness of His own Face; 
so that those who saw Catherine thought they beheld the 
Son of God and the Son of Man." f 

The saint herself gave the same interpretation of the 
marvel, in her own naive and graceful manner, to her for 
tunate confidante Maddalena Strozzi, who had and, clearly, 
never failed to use the right of questioning her upon the 
innermost secrets of her life. Sister Maddalena having asked 
how such a change of countenance as this could possibly be 
made, Catherine replied in the beautiful words of St John: 
" Do you not know that he who dwells in charity dwells 
in God, and God in him ?" 

We are told that the most Blessed Virgin herself chose 
to add her own high sanction to all these proofs of genuine 
ness, by conferring a singular favour which should serve to 
promote the piety of the faithful, not at the time only but 
in ages to come. Immediately after the first ecstasy of the 
Passion she appeared to Catherine and gave her joy of being 
associated with herself in the mystery of the " Compassion" 
where she stood at the foot of her Son s cross. She then 
taught her to honour the object of their mutual love in the 
form which always seems most apt to express the truly great 
feelings of the heart that of a sacred canticle. This pathe 
tic lament, composed entirely of the words of Holy Writ, 
is in two parts. In the first part, verses from the Prophets 
and Evangelists are put into the mouth of our Divine Re 
deemer Himself, who, in this inspired language, sets forth 

* Compendia della Pita, etc., cap. vi, p. 32. t Bull of Canonization. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 77 

the chief circumstances of His Passion in a profoundly 
moving way. As one listens to His plaintive and loving 
cries, each act of the cruel drama seems to pass before one s 
inward sight, so that one can count His bleeding wounds 
one by one; whilst the hearer s heart is pierced with tender 
compunction, and rilled with overwhelming gratitude and 
love for a God who has first so loved us. 

This part of the Canticle ends with, first, the cry of the 
"Good Thief " from the cross "Remember, O Lord, Thy 
servants, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom!" here 
supposed to be addressed to the Saviour of the world by 
all the faithful as He is about to die; and then the last words 
of the account of His Passion " And Jesus, with a loud 
cry, gave up the ghost." 

The second part consists entirely of the reflections which 
the recital of this great mystery is supposed to suggest to 
the soul still expressed in that language of Scripture which 
can say so much in so few words. It begins with an utte 
rance of gratitude for the mercies of the Lord, followed by 
a most pathetic calling to mind of all that we have cost our 
meek Deliverer. Then, after a fervent call upon His good 
ness to awake and help us, and an act of especial confidence 
in Him under the title of Saviour, the Canticle ends with 
a humble prayer to Jesus Christ that the merits of His 
Blood may be applied to us. 

Our Lady is said to have desired Catherine, when she 
revealed this Canticle to her, to spread it through the con 
vent as a form of prayer and contemplation supremely pleas 
ing to our Lord. The venerable confessor, Fra Timoteo, 
wrote it out in full at the saint s dictation and submitted it 
for the approval of the Order. Padre Francesco di Casti- 
glione had then become general, and he was not satisfied with 
allowing its use in San Vincenzio. By a circular letter to all 
monasteries of the Province he ordered it to be placed 
amongst the regular devotions and forms of prayer peculiar 
to the Dominicans; and it has remained celebrated amongst 
us, under the title Canticle of the Passion, as a monument to 
the tender love of our great Dominican saint, Catherine de 



78 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

Ricci, for her crucified Jesus.* It is still the general custom 
in our churches to chant it publicly on certain occasions, 
and especially on the Fridays in Lent. It never fails to pro 
duce chanted as it is, in many cases, to a peculiar and ex 
traordinarily pathetic tone a most deep sense of devotion 
in earnest souls. 

* Fr Jacobus Echard, De Script. Dominicanh, t. II, p. 181. This " Canticle" of St 
Catherine s is to be found, with other special Dominican devotions for the Passion, in a 
Latin book of "Little Offices," brought out in Rome in 1884 by Father J. M. Larocca, 
called Offidum Parvtun B.M.F. juxta ritum Sac. Ord. Fr. Preedicatorum, p. 235. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 79 



CHAPTER VIII 

Mystic espousals of the Saint with Jesus Christ Jesus gives her the ring 
Her sacred Stigmata Her crown of thorns Favours bestowed 
on her through a miraculous crucifix. 

THUS, then, were Catherine s ecstasies and especially that 
of the Passion authentically acknowledged as of Divine 
origin, and in nowise a delusion. The moment had now 
come for her to receive the full accomplishment of God s 
promises. Eight years, or thereabouts, had gone by since 
Jesus Christ had appeared to her during that bad illness 
in her father s house, to tell her of her approaching recovery 
and to show her the splendid betrothal-ring with which He 
meant one day to espouse her.* This miraculous occurrence 
now actually took place ; and the following account of it 
is handed down to us, in the graceful words of Serafino 
Razzi : 

"On the 9th of April, 1542, being Easter Day, and 
the maiden Catherine being in her cell towards early dawn, 
our Lord Jesus Christ appeared to her covered with glory, 
bearing a brilliantly shining cross on His shoulder, and 
a magnificent crown on His head. He had with Him His 

florious Virgin Mother, Mary ; Saint Mary Magdalen ; 
aint Thomas of Aquin ; and another Blessed of the Order. 
The saint s little cell became instantly full of dazzling light; 
and amidst the light was a multitude of angels gracefully 
clad, and ranged in due order, with divers musical instru 
ments in their hands. Beholding such majesty, Catherine 
was struck with a great fear; and (having first, notwith 
standing her awe, carried out what obedience prescribed as 
to all visions) she prostrated three times in adoration of 
Jesus. Then did the most holy Mother of God pray her 
Divine Son to be pleased to take Sister Catherine for His 
Spouse. He therewith gladly consented; and whilst the 
Blessed Virgin held forth the hand of His humble servant 

* See chap, iii, sup. Date c. 1535. 



8o ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

hastened to draw from His own finger a brilliant ring. 

O O 

which He Himself placed on Catherine s left fore-finger; 
and, as He placed it, He said: c My daughter, receive this 
ring as pledge and proof that thou dost now, and ever shalt, 
belong to Me. And when the holy maid longed to tell her 
gratitude, but could find no words worthy of such a grace, 
then the angels suddenly began to draw from their instru 
ments melody so sweet that her narrow cell seemed all at 
once to be Paradise. 

"Jesus, after that, earnestly commended to His spouse 
the practice of humility, obedience, and all Christian vir 
tues; filled her soul with some of that heavenly joy that is the 
portion of His well-beloved ones; and disappeared from 
sight, followed by all His train." 

The ring given to Catherine was of pure gold, enamelled 
with red in symbol of the Blood of the Passion, and with 
a magnificent diamond set in the middle. It was said to have 
been always visible to her, but not equally so to others. It 
became visible, we are told, to different people from time 
to time, in different forms, according to the devotion of 
each and as God pleased. Sister Maddalena Strozzi saw it 
habitually, as a raised red circle round the finger, increasing, 
in the shape of a square stone, in the middle. Other sisters 
saw it now and then shining like a luminous circle. Others 
again, seeing it under one form or another, were at the same 
time conscious of a heavenly scent coming from it. Once, 
however, the whole community having put the saint under 
obligation to beg the favour of God saw the ring in its 
full real beauty and true form. Then every one of these con 
secrated virgins recognized in the mysterious pledge of be 
trothal a sacred gift, which the Divine Spouse gives, indeed, 
to whomsoever He pleases ; but with which He specially 
loves to address one to whom He may say, in the joy of His 
Heart, Una est columba mea, una estperfecta mea* Soon, both 
in the Monastery and in all Tuscany, Catherine was named 
with one voice "the Bride of Christ" par excellence. 

It is remarkable that at the very same period when our 
Lord was bestowing this strangely touching proof of Divine 

* Le Letter -g, &c., p. 114. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 81 

condescension which had been but rarely granted in the 
earlier ages of Christianity on the subject of our present 
history, He was also granting the favour of Mystic Espou 
sals to other saints. Saint M. Magdalen de Pazzi, in Italy; 
St Theresa, in Spain ; the Venerable Agnes of Langeac, in 
France: all received the marvellous grace somewhere about 
this time. It would seem as if, on the threshold of the great 
religious upheaval that was to weaken Faith and cool 
Charity later in the sixteenth century, God chose to be 
specially prodigal of such divine gifts as might strengthen 
the love and devotion of pure and generous souls. 

But, after this short respite from suffering granted to 
her in the joys of her heavenly betrothal, Catherine was 
soon drawn back into the more hidden, though not less 
glorious, path of her appointed lot. God destined her for 
the enormous favour of the Sacred Stigmata, that she might 
thereby share the honour as well as the pains of His Pas 
sion; so He appears to have prepared her for this immedi 
ately after her reception of the mystical ring, by a special 
and intimate communication, in which He revealed to her 
how complete was to be that " baptism of suffering " which 
should inflict the pains of death on every part of her body, 
and all its anguish on her soul, without taking away her 
life.* 

The holy maiden s heart was inflamed by this superna 
tural interview with Jesus Christ to more generous thoughts 
than ever, which laid firm hold of her. When, five days after 
her sacred espousals (being the Friday in Easter week), she 
was rapt into her usual ecstasy of the Passion, and reached 
the moment of contemplating the Crucifixion, she was seized 
with such extraordinarily keen sympathy at the sight that 
she offered herself with fervour to her Spouse, to take His 
place on the Cross. Instantly, as though she had been fastened 
by blow to His gibbet as though a lance had struck her 
full in the breast she felt pains so sharp and intense that 
it seemed to her as if she were dying with Jesus Himself. 
Then, her ecstasy over, she appeared with body all emaci 
ated and livid, and face pale as a corpse: "so much so," says 

* Sandrini, lib. I, cap. xx, p. 69. 



82 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

an historian, " that for a few days afterwards her sisters 
hardly knew whether she was alive or dead, and could not 
look upon her without shedding tears of pity."* At the same 
time she herself, seeing her hands pierced right through, and 
feeling her left side opened by a large wound, "ceased not 
to thank her divine Spouse for having granted her His 
sacred wounds, with all His pains, as a means of meditating 
on his sorrowful Passion with a more loving and compas 
sionate heart."f 

This new favour of the stigmas also had the whole 
monastery as witness, but again with variations. Some of 
the sisters beheld the wounds in the hands with awe, even 
as the saint herself saw them open right through and 
sometimes bleeding. Others among whom was Maddalena 
Strozzi saw them several times shining with so brilliant 
alight that they had to lower their eyes before it; whilst 
to the greater number they appeared under the form of 
healed-up wounds, red and swollen, with a black spot in 
the centre, round which blood seemed to circulate. It was 
thus that the sacred marks were visible to the whole com 
munity in the year following, on April 5, 1543, eve of 
St Vincent Ferrer s feast, when Catherine being in ecstasy 
held her hand outside her scapular, and each of the 
sisters in turn kissed it with deep devotion. The same 
favour was granted, under like conditions, to many secu 
lars: amongst others to the saint s second mother, the de 
vout Fiammetta, who escaped from Florence at intervals 
to come and admire the miracles worked by "her Alessan- 
drina," the celebrated spouse of Jesus and the saint of 
Prato. 

The wounds in the feet, naturally less observable, had a 
more restricted number of witnesses. Some of the nuns saw 
them, open on both sides and raw; whilst the flesh had the 
peculiarity of being swollen on the upper part of the wound 
and sunk in on the lower part : a state that could only have 
been produced by the impression of our Lord s body, 
whose weight had pressed on the nails that fastened His 
feet to the cross. 

* Sandrini, ibid. f Vita Anonima, cap. x, p. 84. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 83 

As to the wound in the side, the only person who be 
held this during: the saint s lifetime was her faithful guard 

O O 

and companion Maddalena, who had to nurse her charge 
from time to time in illness. She stated that this wound 
was larger than the others, and that she often saw it all 
streaming with light. 

All the wounds incurable as that divine love which 
caused them were accompanied by great and continual 
pains; and, by the holy maiden s own confession, the pain 
of the wound in her side was so violent that she constantly 
felt as if on the point of fainting away, or even of dying, 
from it. 

Other saints, as we know, have had these wonderful 
marks of our Lord s crucifixion imprinted on their bodies, 
and have offered themselves as generously as did Catherine 
de Ricci for the sharing of His sufferings and the expia 
tion of sin throughout the world ; but the peculiarity of 
her case lies in the fact of her having received the sacred 
stigmata in early life, whereas they have usually been given 
as the final episode only of a saint s career. To name only two 
of the most celebrated instances, St Catherine of Siena re 
ceived this honour five years before her death; whilst St 
Francis of Assisi lived but two years as Dante notices: 

Nel crudo sasso intra Tevero ed Arno 
Da Christo prese 1 ultimo sigillo 
Che le sue membra due anni portarno. 

// Taradiso, cant. xi. 

after the day when he found his calvary on that rocky 
height between the Tiber and the Arno. Here, however, 
we have a maiden of twenty years old mystically transfixed 
to the altar of sacrifice, and destined to be a victim in 
union with her crucified Spouse for forty-seven years : as 
she lived to the age of sixty-seven. 

One thing only was now wanting to make our saint a 
perfect copy, externally as interiorly, of Christ in His 
Passion, namely, the crown of thorns. Sandrini tells of a 
vision of our Lady with the Infant Jesus, specially sent 
at the Christmas following her stigmatization to prepare 
her for this fresh honour, by awakening in her a yet more 



84 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

ardent desire for suffering, and courage to bear it, than 
she had had before. None of her biographers mention the 
exact date of her receiving this final exterior mark of the 
Passion, but all are agreed that she did receive it, and that 
it was seen sometimes in the form of actual long thorns 
piercing the skull and temples, with blood flowing from 
them; whilst at other times only the bleeding wounds as 
if made by thorns just extracted were seen, encircling the 
head in the form of a crown. The lay-sisters of St Vincent s, 
who had to cut the nun s hair from time to time, testified 
that the marks were never effaced throughout the saint s 
life; and the whole community gazed at them with awe as 
she lay on her death-bed. 

Yet one more symbol of her union with the Crucified 
was granted to Catherine, but one never visible except to 
the few who nursed her in her illnesses. This was a livid 
mark about three fingers wide, which went in a straight 
line from the top of her right shoulder, down her back to 
the waist; in which those privileged to behold it recognized, 
with deep reverence, the impression of the cross, as carried 
by our Saviour from the Pretorium to Calvary.* 

During the whole of this year, 1542 so memorable 
in our saint s life, as the period within which she received 
most of these marvellous favours at different times her 
heavenly Spouse was pleased both to help her in her mys 
tical sufferings, and to show His own great love for her 
and His approval of her heroic virtue, by means of a large 
wooden crucifix in her cell, of which the figure was a special 
favourite with her and the constant object of her contem 
plation. Our blessed Lord chose, many times, to commu 
nicate with Catherine through this figure of Himself, by 
causing it to become animated and to speak to her as in 
His own person. Sometimes He made the figure stretch 
its arms towards her from the cross on which it hung, and 
address her in loving accents in answer to the prayers she 

* The Bull of Canonization thus resumes all St Catherine de Ricci s supernatural 
graces of this kind: "Ipsam in fide et charitate fulgida ornata, ac preciosissimis monili- 
bus de thesauris suis decoravit. Ipsius enim latere ac manibus et pedibus sacra Clavorum 
suorum et Lanceae stigmata, sanguine rubentia insculpsit, spineum diadema capiti im- 
posuit, humeris vero vestigia crucis impressit," 




THE SAINT S MIRACULOUS CRUCIFIX. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 85 

was pouring forth at its feet. Again, when she lay on her 
bed, powerless from illness, the sacred image would smile 
at her with unspeakable kindness; whilst at other times it 
would eloquently exhort her, as she gazed at it nailed im 
movably to its cross, to patience in every suffering. 

But on one, now celebrated, occasion God was pleased 
to work an even greater miracle than these by means of 
this crucifix. Coming into her cell one morning immediately 
after Communion, Catherine heard her name loudly called; 
and, looking towards her crucifix, saw the figure detach it 
self suddenly from the cross, bearing away with it the nails 
by which it was fastened, and dart through the air towards 
her. Instinctively, she stretched out her arms to receive it, 
placing one hand under its feet and reverently encircling 
it with the other. Then the miraculously animated figure 
leant towards the saint, and pressed her with its arms, say 
ing these words in a clear voice : "Beloved spouse, I have 
come to seek shelter in your heart, and in the hearts of all 
my daughters, against the crimes of sinners which are 
weighing Me down. I require you to have three solemn 
processions, in expiation of their sins, and to disarm My 
justice." 

Scarcely had Catherine received the figure in her hands 
and heard these words than she was ravished into an ecstasy, 
in which she remained fixed in the same attitude for a 
full hour. Sister Maddalena Strozzi, coming into the cell and 
seeing the miracle, was so moved by the beautiful sight that 
she fell on her knees before the imageof Christ and entreated 
our Lord not to awaken His holy spouse from her rapture 
until her sisters had had the happiness of beholding the 
wonderful scene. All were accordingly fetched; and all 
moved to tears of joy and tenderness lovingly kissed the 
marvellous figure and the fortunate hand that supported it, 
inhaling as they did so a delightful fragrance of unearthly 
kind. 

The Dominican artist, Pere Hyacinthe Besson, made a 
drawing of this celebrated occurrence in the saint s life, in 
which he represents the Figure just detached fromits cross 
coming down towards Catherine. He has wonderfully 



86 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

caught, in this sketch, the mingling of deep respect which 
keeps the maiden on her knees with the fervent impulse 
of love which causes her to stretch her arms suddenly to 
wards the Image of her Spouse; but, like many another of 
the modern Fra Angelico s works, it has remained only a 
sketch: he never had time to paint the picture. 

On coining out of her ecstasy, Catherine straightway 
sent for the Prior of St Dominic s, and communicated to 
him the will of God concerning the three processions re 
quired for gaining His mercy towards sinners. The first 
of these took place that very day, which was the 24th of 
August feast of St Bartholomew. The saint, filled with 
enthusiastic veneration for the miraculous crucifix, was 
burning to carry it herself at the head of the procession; but 
her modesty made her fear both that this might make her 
too conspicuous, and that it was perhaps wrong to covet an 
honour of which others were more worthy. She confided her 
doubts to her mistress, who soon set them at rest by the 
decisive remark that the office of cross-bearer in front of a 
procession belonged by right to the lay-sisters, and was 
therefore one quite consistent with humility. Catherine, 
therefore, marched joyfully crucifix in hand at the head 
of all; and a fresh marvel appeared as she did so. She was 
rapt in ecstasy the whole time of the procession, with eyes 
completely shut; and yet unguided she traversed all the 
main parts of the monastery, through which the procession 
was to pass, without a single mistake: going round every 
turn or winding in and out of doors up and down stair 
cases with perfect solemnity and exactness, as if she saw 
the way with her bodily sight: " Which could not possibly 
have happened," wrote the Venerable Fra Timoteo, " if she 
had not been invisibly supported by 1 the hands of angels." 

The miraculous crucifix, naturally becoming an object 
of special veneration, was placed with the young saint s 
consent in the general convent oratory, so that all the 
nuns might come freely to satisfy their devotion at its feet. 
But after Catherine s death, when her cell was made into a 
sanctuary, the crucifix was restored to its former place: and, 
of all the relics now there that bear witness to her virtue 



AND HER COMMUNITY 87 

and her love of God, none seem to speak of her in more 
touching and eloquent language than this one. 

This miracle, so publicly manifested, was both preceded 
and followed by many divine communications to the holy 
maid, some of which were in the form of beautiful visions 
of the " imaginative " order, described by some of her bio 
graphers with extreme minuteness: notably by Razzi.* The 
great point of interest, however, in all the revelations or ap 
pearances granted to Catherine during this period, is that 
most of them were not for her own personal consolation 
or even sanctification alone; but were intended, whether 
by way of direct commands from our Lord Himself, or of 
allegorical interpretation of visions, for the good of the 
whole community. They were frequently either reprimands 
for some defects such as breaches of silence, or slight 
carelessness in saying office, for example which had to be 
remedied; or instructions as to fresh devotions, or as to an 
increase of fervour in general monastic virtues. When the 
saint received such communications as these, not all her na 
tural timidity and modesty combined could prevent her from 
making them known to her sisters : so clear was her duty 
as simply the mouth-piece of her and their Lord; whilst 
the humble submission with which reproof or instruction, 
as the case might be, was heard and acted upon by the com 
munity proves how undoubting was the conviction of Ca 
therine s sanctity and the reality of her intercourse with God, 
since the fact of her being one of the very youngest sisters 
in the convent clearly did not in any way affect the reve 
rence which all spontaneously paid to her injunctions. 

* See chap, xi, vol. I, of Pere Bayonne s " Life." 



88 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



CHAPTER IX 

Catherine s love for her family Her anxiety about their concerns Be 
ginning of her correspondence with them (1542) 

WE are now to look at Catherine in a different aspect from 
that in which we have been considering her through the last 
few chapters: namely, in her relations with her own family. 
Whilst she had been living, amongst her religious sisters 
at Prato, this life of close interior intercourse with God, oc 
cupied exteriorly with all the minutiae of cloister duties, she 
was very far from having forgotten the inhabitant of the 
Ricci Palace, left behind at Florence. Indeed, the saint s 
faithful and tender love for her family and, as we shall find 
later on, for her friends too is one of her most remarkable 
characteristics, lending a charm and humanness to her life 
which make it as attractive on the natural as on the super 
natural side. Of this characteristic, happily, there is plenty 
of direct proof to lay before the reader, in St Catherine s 
own words. 

It was, strangely enough, in the very year in which the 
wonderful heavenly favours j ust recorded were vouchsafed 
to her that "Sister Catherine" first opened a correspondence 
with her family beginning with some letters to her father 
of which several specimens have been handed down to us; 
and which, after her parents death, she kept up with her 
brothers till the later part of her life. It seems as if, from this 
time forth, she was no longer satisfied to see them at inter 
vals, when they came to talk to her through the grille at 
Prato, but felt impelled to pour forth some of her super 
natural riches for their comfort and instruction, and to ex 
press her keen sympathy with their joys and sorrows, and 
their spiritual condition, more frequently and freely than 
hitherto. 

Now, Pierfrancesco was undoubtedly a firmly believing 
Christian; but he was a man of the world, and deeply im- 



AND HER COMMUNITY 89 

mersed in both his public functions and his own private busi 
ness affairs; consequently, like many another, he was at times 
carried away by such things to the danger of his soul. Ca 
therine was only too well aware of this; and, becoming really 
uneasy as to her father s salvation, she took advantage of the 
Lenten season in this year 1542 to give expression to her 
wishes about him. On March 2 1 we find her writing to him 
as follows : 

" Honoured and dearly-loved father, health and hearty 
greeting in the Lord ! 

" I cannot refrain from sending you a few lines, just to 
remind you not to put off your confession, now that Holy 
Week is close. Imitate our Lord in humility, for without 
this we cannot follow Him who said: I am the Way, the 
Truth, and the Life, in order that the life and habits of the 
Master might be the model of His servants; and also that 
we might choose that humility which He taught us when He 
said, Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart. He 
who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles 
himself shall be exalted: shall be made glorious and blessed 
in heaven, where Jesus our model invites and expects us, 
that we may live there with Him for ever. 

" I have received, as usual, your charitable gifts. May 
the Lord reward you for them! 

" I have nothing more to say except that I have written 
to Federigo * as you desired. We send affectionate greet 
ings to you and to our mother, and so do Mother Prior 
ess and the other sisters. May Jesus Christ protect you from 
all evil and keep you in His grace! 

" Your daughter, Sister Catherine, at San Vincenzio s. 

"From Trato, S\iarch 21, 1542." 

That Pierfrancesco proved the genuine humility of his 
character by taking his holy daughter s exhortation in good 
part, and by at once following her advice, is clear from her 

* Federigo was Catherine s uncle. The "we" in this letter probably refers to the 
saint herself and one of her younger half-sisters, Lucrezia, who later on took the veil at 
San Vincenzio s, and must at this time have been in the convent as a pupil. The prior 
ess mentioned here was Sister Raffaella di Faenza. 



90 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

next letter, thanking him for some " gifts in kind " that he 
had sent to the convent for Easter: 

" My kind and most honoured father, health and greet 
ing! 

" I have received your letter, which was most pleasant 
to me; and with it the numerous things for which I greatly 
thank you. May the Lord reward you for me; and, above 
all, may He fill you with His grace at this holy Paschal 
time, paying you back in spiritual gifts the temporal ones 
that you bestow upon us! You really do too much for us! 
But I am very sure that God will reward you amply, for 
even the smallest thing, so long as you do it all for the love 
of Him. I entreat you, throughout this Easter season, to 
give yourself entirely to God. See how He suffered for us; 
and how He did it out of the great love He bears to all 
His creatures, so that we may have cause to love Him our 
selves all the more! Therefore, my father, devote yourself 
to reflecting on such love as this, and pray for me, that I 
too may learn to understand it better. Exhort Giovanni,* 
from me, to do the same. Tell him not to approach this great 
Sacrament without thought, but to receive It after serious 
reflection, and with a firm purpose of avoiding all sin. If 
he does this, our Lord will help him. Greetings to my 
brother and all of them, and also to you and our mother. 
May Jesus Christ keep you in His grace and preserve you 
from harm! 

" Your daughter, etc., etc. 
"From Trato, Jpril 2, 1542." 

The following note which carries us on to more than 
a year later in Catherine s life than the last one needs 
some explanation as to the relations of her father with the 
convent. As far back as 1538 Pierfrancesco, having been 
named by the Grand-Duke " Commissary " at Prato, had 
the opportunity of seeing his daughter much more fre 
quently than before, and of getting to know the chief sisters 
of the convent much better than he had done. He was so 

* One of her own brothers, by the first wife, Caterina di Panzano. He died 
in 1544. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 91 

charmed by their conversation that he became devoted to 
them, and gave them a place in his affections of such a 
really paternal kind that he voluntarily bound himself to 
their daily interests by becoming their " Procurator," or 
manager of their temporal affairs. When he was specially 
wanted at the convent on business, Catherine herself was 
generally commissioned to write to him; and thus she had 
the opportunity of saying many little things to her father, 
of spiritual or temporal interest, on her own account. This 
state of things will explain the mingling of a certain degree 
of " corporate self-interest " with daughterly anxiety on the 
saint s part, when she writes of Pierfrancesco s illness: 

" I have received your pleasant letter, and with it your 
usual little presents: we will beg our Lord Himself to re 
ward you for them. We are much grieved to hear that you 
are ill; and we are offering, and will continue to offer, 
prayers, that God may soon restore you to health, and that 
you may be able to come here. The mothers are in great 
need of you for the business, and the numerous works going 
on at the convent. I therefore beg you, when you have re 
covered and can do so without inconvenience, to come with 
out fail. 

" Do not forget, my good father, to give yourself to 
God and the Blessed Virgin. Love Him with your whole 
heart and soul, and desire nothing save to please Him and 
do His holy will. I know that He will never fail you in all 
your needs. . . . Greet our dear mother for me, and tell 
her we are praying for her, and that she must be cheerful, 
and give herself completely to Jesus and His most holy 
Mother. . . . May the Lord be always with you, and quickly 
make you well! 

" Your daughter, etc., etc. 

"From Trato, July 8, 1543." 

We come next to a portion of St Catherine de Ricci s 
family correspondence which is full of pathos as well as of 
interest, being once more the old story though this time 
enacted from behind a grille of a sister standing between 
an angry father and an erring brother. 



92 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

But a fortnight after the note just quoted, we find the 
saint writing to her father in terms that can only be ex 
plained by her having had some supernatural revelation of 
serious trouble shortly to befall him, and of which she 
seems to be giving him solemn preparatory warning. Here 
is her letter (dated July 23): 

"My good, honoured, and well-beloved father, health 
and innumerable greetings in our dear Jesus! May He 
comfort your heart in all the needs that may arise at any 
moment; and may He enlighten you in all your works, so 
that you may walk according to His most holy will and 
never offend the Divine Majesty. I would make this re 
quest of you, my good father to wish for nothing but His 
good pleasure, and to hold yourself in subjection to His 
law and commandments as, indeed, I hope and believe 
you are sure to do. But I want to remind you to persevere 
in this, and to make yourself go forward from good to better; 
because, if you do this, I am certain that the mercy of God 
will never forsake you, as I have often told you. I, your 
daughter, shall never cease praying to my Jesus that He 
will not desert you, and that you too may never desert 
Him, whatever may happen to you. Do, I beseech you, dear 
est Father, give yourself entirely to Jesus, the Lover of our 
souls! 

" I received your letter a day or two ago, and with it 
your many kind gifts. . . . 

" Your daughter, etc." * 

The misfortune that Catherine evidently foresaw was 
not long in coming. At the beginning of September, 1543, 
her father wrote to tell her of the bitter sorrow into which 
he and the whole family had been plunged by the miscon 
duct of his eldest son, Ridolfo, Catherine s brother. He was 
a young man of about twenty, of strong passions, who was 
already beginning a career of both private and public error 
which was to keep him in disgrace almost throughout his 

* The beginnings and endings of all the saint s letters are so much alike, that 
in the future only one specimen of each, in the case of each fresh correspondent, will 
be given. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 93 

life, and to be a source of perpetual anxiety to his sister, 
whose untiring love and zeal followed him to the end in an 
incessant effort to bring him back to a sense of duty. In 
answer to the first news of his bad conduct sent to her by 
the aggrieved and disconsolate father, she writes as follows : 

" I have read your letter, and also that of the poor boy. 
May God have as deep mercy for him as the misery into 
which He sees him plunged! I am praying and the whole 
community is joining with me in doing the same that this 
soul may not perish. It is perfectly clear that he means to 
do what he says; but prayer may disarm the anger of the 
Lord. May it please God to give the unhappy boy grace 
not to persist in the bad intention that he has now! And 
you, most honoured father recommend him to God, as I 
am sure you are doing and then bear the troubles with 

which N * is overwhelming you patiently and in peace. 

Remember, my dear father, that our Lord will give you a 
great reward for this, and trust entirely to God. 

" I have read the letters to our uncle (Fra Timoteo), and 
you may be sure that he feels as much pity for you as I do. 
Still, things being as they are, we are glad to have had 

news of N , so as to be able to help him : which is our 

duty, as he is all the more in need of help. I beg you 
again not to be more troubled over this than God wills, 
but to let reason always keep the upper hand, for the love 
of Him from whom you incessantly receive so much good. 
If He allows such great sorrows, be sure that it will all 
count to you for merit, if you will have patience. . . . 

" From Prato, September 5, 1543." 

The wording of this letter leaves it somewhat doubt 
ful whether the youth had written himself straight to his 
sister, or whether Pierfrancesco had enclosed a letter from 
his son for Catherine to read. Also, we cannot be sure, 
from the saint s way of expressing herself, exactly what she 
means by the " help " which she and her uncle thought it 

* Though this letter and the two following ones have the letter N in place of a name, 
it is held certain that they both refer to Ridolfo. 



94 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



their duty to give to Ridolfo; but it certainly conveys an 
impression that they had been affording him some mate 
rial help in a bad " scrape," besides assisting him with their 
prayers. However this may be, Sister Catherine apparently 
said no more on the subject to her father for some time: 
hoping, probably, that the first extreme irritation on both 
sides might cool a little if she waited. Whether she at last 
offered to intercede for her brother, to get him pardoned, 
or whether the culprit himself penitent for the time 
begged her to do so, does not appear; but, at any rate, she 
undertook the office of mediator, two months after this 
first offence, with the most ardent love and desire for peace, 
as we see from the two following letters: both written on 
the same day: 

" May the Divine Majesty grant you patience and give 
peace to your troubled soul ! May you have light which, 
amid all your trials, will enable you, for the love of God 
who suffered so much for you, to see what course will be 
best for you to take, and may you have grace to pursue it. 
I have received a letter from your son, wherein he begs 
me to commend him to you and to send you the letter 
which he has written to you. Full well do I understand 
your displeasure against him and the grave faults which he 
has committed; but, father, 1 entreat you to be patient and 
discreet, so that your magnanimity may be acknowledged 
by all. Your son has indeed acted very wrongly and dis 
obeyed God, and you, his dear father, who have taken so 
much pains for him; but nevertheless I beseech you, for 
the love of God, to pardon him. If you have cursed him 
according to his deserts, restore your blessing to him now 
and commend him to God. I would further implore you 
to listen to his prayers and to grant him your favour and 
help as far as it may be in your power to do so. If you 
will act thus I shall indeed be happy, for sons are often 
helped in life for their fathers sake rather than for their 
own. Encourage my mother and do your best to preserve 
your peace of mind. I would beg of you to send a line 
to your son in answer to this letter and to write as kindly as 



AND HER COMMUNITY 95 

you can; for, since the harm is done, there is nothing to be 
gained by making bad worse and driving him to despair. 
May Jesus strengthen you as I fervently pray of Him to 
do ! May He be with you and guard you from all evil. 
"November 15, 1543." 

As N * is returning to you with N , I want 

to beg of you for the love of our good Jesus to lay aside 
all harshness and undue severity. Although justice may be 
on your side and the world may say that you ought to be 
firm in asserting your rights, it is my belief that you will 
please our Lord Jesus by showing mercy. At the time that 
his mother shall deem fitting your son will, I know, ask 
your forgiveness; and I implore of you to grant him par 
don when he begs it of you. Tell him the truth gently, 
promising to help him if he behave well and threatening 
to withdraw your assistance should he misconduct himself. 
If you will act thus I think that you will do him a great 
deal of good, but as long as he is afraid to approach you 
or speak to you, medicine will avail him little. I know how 
much he suffers when I tell him that you will not see him. 
He fully acknowledges that you are in the right and is very 
humble and most anxious to atone, by his future conduct, for 
the displeasure he has caused you, and the sooner you will 
forgive him the more quickly he will recover from his 
illness and be restored by you to health of soul and body. 
I have another request to make to you. Will you allow this 
son of yours and the others to go to Confession henceforth 
to Fra Gabriello Totti, the master of novices at San Marco? 
When your son came here he told me that he meant to go 
to Confession on his return to you, and I advised him to 
leave his former confessor and go to Fra Gabriello. He de 
clined to make this change without your consent; so I beg 
you to assign the priest whom I have named as confessor 
to all your sons; for, without wishing to asperse any one, 
I think he is a good father. It only remains for me to beg 
your pardon if I was too free in speaking with N in 



Ridolfo. 



96 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

your presence: I did so, not out of disrespect, but from 
confidence; so pray forgive me. I have offered you entirely 
to Jesus, and I pray for you and for all. 

"November 15, 1543." 

These two letters, however, did not have the desired 
effect. Pierfrancesco remained inflexible. He wrote to his 
daughter with redoubled affection for her and her convent, 
which he loaded with gifts; but he said not a word about 
her appeal for the culprit, whom he did not even conde 
scend to mention. Then poor Catherine, overcome with 
grief at seeing her brother ostracized from his father s home, 
had recourse to the plan of putting her appeal in a different 
form: in that of entreaty for a personal favour to herself. 
She wrote as follows, a week after the two unsuccessful com 
munications, having evidently had a bad account of her 
father s health in his letter, which gave an excuse for her 
writing again : 

" I have received from you a letter informing me of 
your illness which grieves me. I pray and will pray that 
God may, if it so please Him, restore you to health. May 
such be His will, for I can desire nothing save His good 
pleasure. I have not, as yet, heard that you have made peace 
with Ridolfo. This really distresses me, and I do beg of you, 
my good father, for the sake of the passion of Jesus and 
for the love of the Blessed Virgin, to be pleased to grant 
me this favour. I am so grieved that as yet you have not 
done so, that my sorrow is making me ill. Therefore, dear 
father, I implore you to deliver me from this anxiety and 
to forget the past and bury the whole matter in the sacred 
wounds of our good Jesus. Speak to your son again. Do 
not refuse me, father! If I am truly your daughter and you 
really love me as much as you profess, you will grant me 
this favour and will deliver me from this distress. I am cer 
tain that you let Ridolfo want for nothing and provide him 
with everything; but what good will medicine do him while 
he is in such trouble at your refusal to speak to him? I 
entreat you soon to let me hear that you have done as I ask 



AND HER COMMUNITY 97 

you. I thank you with all my heart for your affection: may 
the Lord reward you ! 



23 ovemer, 1543 



This time, the saint succeeded in softening her father s 
severity, as the opening lines of her next letter (not other 
wise interesting) show. " I have had your very welcome 
letter," she writes, "and I see that by the grace of Jesus, 
you are now quite satisfied and peaceable as I wished you 
should be, for your own happiness." 

Thus ended the first spell of trouble over Ridolfo. We 
have given Catherine s letters on the subject in this place, 
though it is a little ante-dating things to do so, because 
they form such an important part of the correspondence 
with her father beginning in 1542; which correspondence 
was destined to be so short that it seems best to put every 
thing connected with it together, and so finish the subject. 

The letter last quoted whose date is December 1 9, 1 543 
goes on, after expressing the writer s pleasure in hearing 
of peace between father and son, to congratulate Pierfran- 
cesco, piously, on being appointed to the office of "Maritime 
Consul" at Pisa which had just been bestowed on him by 
the grand-duke, and which he forthwith took up, and 
held until his death shortly afterwards. We can only con 
jecture that he saw, and bade good-bye to, his daughter and 
her community before leaving, as we are told nothing about 
this; but it is to be hoped that Catherine had at least one 
happy interview with her father just then, to console her 
for both past and future worrying intercourse: for the hot- 
tempered Florentine was to give trouble again to his holy 
child, by his implacable disposition when angered, before 
the end came. It happened in this wise. 

Pierfrancesco de Ricci, as we know, owned the heredi 
tary family bank in common with his elder brother Federigo 
de Ricci. They managed the business affairs of this property 
together, and shared the profits. Now, at a certain squaring 
of accounts, the saint s father considered that his own rights 
had been seriously infringed upon went into a violent rage 
with his brother and nursed the most bitter resentment 



98 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

against him. Catherine s grief over such a quarrel may be 
imagined, as well as her earnest determination not to rest 
till she had done all in her power to heal it. Clearly, she 
tried her best to bring about a personal interview between 
her father and Federigo at San Vincenzio, probably hoping 
that her kindly uncle Fra Timoteo might act as mediator 
and bring about a reconciliation between the other two; 
and one can picture her disappointment when all her plans 
failed by Pierfrancesco s hasty departure and refusal to meet 
the offender. She fell again, then, to writing her entreaties, 
as she had done in the case of Ridolfo; the two last letters 
we have of this correspondence concern the difference be 
tween these brothers: in which the saint clearly thought that 
her father had some right on his side as far as the business 
matter went, terribly in the wrong as she saw his state of 
mind about it to be. 

The first of the two letters is taken up entirely with the 
quarrel : 

" I, Sister Catherine, greet you in the love of Jesus 
Christ longing that in you, my father, this holy charity 
should be perfect ; for it is this that keeps us in union 
with God, and makes us dear and acceptable to Him, and 
which also guides us in all our conduct to our neigh 
bours, whether superiors, equals, or subordinates. Yet, 
father, it does not seem to me that, in these holy Easter 
days, any signs of such divine charity are to be seen in you. 
I am most deeply distressed to find you so ill-disposed as 
to have kept away from meeting your dear brothers, so that 
you might interchange explanations and make peace with 
each other. What greater happiness could you have than to 
be with your brothers and your daughter ? We should in 
deed have praised God, if we had seen in you the fruit of 
Holy Communion: that Victim of peace whom you received 
on Easter morning, and who produces holy charity in hearts 
that receive Him with due faith and humility, and unites 
them to God and their neighbour. You ought not, then, to 
have gone to this Holy Communion until you had been 
reconciled to your brother; and he, also, ought not to have 



I 



AND HER COMMUNITY 99 

put off [reconciliation] till after Easter. But what you did 
not do before, I want to beg you to do now, by the mercy 
of Christ, who loved us so much that He did not refuse to 
humiliate Himself and do penance for our sakes, though we 
had so greatly offended Him. Ah! did not He say, when the 
Jews crucified Him so unjustly, < Father, forgive my exe 
cutioners, for they know not what they do ? I want you to 
do the same, even though all the right were on your side. 
I believe, and am indeed certain, that much of it is so, and 
I feel great compassion for you; but I do not want you to 
stop there : I want holy love and holy peace to show forth 
in you, as in a true Christian. Do not refuse what I ask. 

" You must not think that because I have exchanged 
a few words with N- * I have turned against you, con 
trary to all reason. I know him, too, very well, and quite 
understand that his disposition is incompatible with yours. 
What I am now writing, I should have said [before] viv d 
^oce, had I known the terms on which you and he stood; 
and I think still as I did formerly, and feel very much for 
you. But, if I think rightly of your soul, my conscience tells 
me that I am not wrong in pointing out your proper course 
to you. Even if every reason you could urge [for displea 
sure] were a true one, nevertheless you ought to explain 
yourself, and come to an agreement, so as to be at peace. 
You ought to do this both for the honour of God and for 
the sake of a better example to the world and to your own 
sons, who will follow the precedents you set and walk in your 
footsteps. So, dear father, do not refuse what I ask, for the 
good of your soul and your body! If you do this, God will 
help you and make you prosper in all your concerns; if you 
do otherwise, you will not deserve that He should help you, 
but that everything should go from bad to worse. I am sure 
you will not fail me in this, but that you understand how 
important it is for you to be at peace with N . 

:< It pains me to worry you with such a long letter, but 
I did not know what else to do. I would rather have said 
what I am now writing and should have done so if you had 
not gone off in the morning, almost in anger, and without 

* Federigo de Ricci, 



TOO 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



saying a word to us. This was a very great trouble to us all. 
I only want to beg you hoping that you will want to please 
me to tell me, in answer to this, when you will do what 
I ask, and take a day or two for looking over those accounts 
again, so as to put an end to the matter and make peace. 
With your permission, I should like to send the Padre, our 
uncle, to stay with you and listen to your views, as I know 
he wishes nothing but your good. So do not fail to let me 
know what you intend: the more quickly you settle it all 
the more you will honour God, and the better it will be 
for you, in every respect. 

" Once again, I beg you to satisfy me by answering 
quickly, if you wish God to be with you. I must not for 
get to warn you, in certain states of anger or violence, not 
to let words escape you that might trouble or offend your 
neighbour, as you can judge that they would displease you 
if said by anyone whatever; for by thus offending your 
neighbour, you would offend God, and might do yourself 
great harm. 

" From Prato, April 16, 1544." 

If this intense anxiety for both soul and body on the 
part of his daughter even whilst she believed him in the 
right as to the grounds of complaint gives a painfully 
vivid picture of what Pierfrancesco s temper must have been 
when strongly roused, an equally clear impression of the 
humility and faith that lay at the bottom of his passionate 
character is surely conveyed by her next letter to him, as 
well as a most touching proof of the deep love and confi 
dence that must have existed between the two, to make 
such plain-speaking on her part and such ready acceptance 
on his, possible. 

A week after the above earnest appeal the saint writes 
again thus : 

"I am writing, my dearest father, in answer to your 
most welcome letter informing me that you have asked 
pardon from your heart. I could never tell you what joy 
this news has given me: it makes me happy on account 
both of your soul which I love dearly, and also of your 



AND HER COMMUNITY tot 

bodily welfare. I thank you for having sent me such joyful 
intelligence, the best indeed that I could possibly have re 
ceived. Blessed be God who never forsakes, but rather 
lovingly assists, all them that trust in Him ! As, by your 
letter, you have gladdened my heart, I likewise will send 
you some happy tidings. Know then that yesterday your 
dear daughter Lessandra, together with the others, was 
accepted by the sisters assembled in chapter. She obtained 
a large number of votes. Do you thank God then together 
with me for the many blessings which, despite our ingrati 
tude, He never ceases to pour down upon us. May He 
also reward you for the charity and affection that you un 
failingly show me. Nothing further occurs to me to say 
except to commend myself to you and to my mother, pray 
ing God to enrich you with His grace. I should be very 
grateful if you would send me the dates of my birth and of 
my baptism. I know that they occurred during this month. 
The reverend Father Provincial received your and our 
Sandrina and offered her at the altar together with the others. 
" April 24, 1544." 

Was Catherine s extreme desire to see her father spiri 
tually at rest as quickly as possible in any way inspired by 
some private foreknowledge ? It may be so, for the end of 
Pierfrancesco s life was very near when she wrote the above 
letter : the last we have of this correspondence. He died in 
September, 1544, having held his office at Pisa but ten 
months. Whether he and his saintly daughter met again 
upon earth we are not told. 

We must now go back a little in time, to show by one 
or two other letters of this period the sort of separate inter 
course that Sister Catherine was holding with her step 
mother, whilst she was communicating on these thorny 
subjects with her father. Fiammetta mother of seven 
children of her own, in addition to the step-children whom 
she had so completely taken to her heart was a woman 
of many cares as well as of very warm affections; and she 
had no more keen sympathizer in all concerns than the step 
daughter whom she had so generously helped to the desire 



1 01 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



of her heart in former days. Just at the end of 1542, 
Fiammetta was in great anxiety about her own boy, 
Vincenzio, who was dangerously ill; and the saint writes 
thus about it : 

" My honoured and dearest mother, Your troubles are 
mine, and I feel most deeply for your grief and anxiety on 
account of your little Vincenzio. I have begged Mother 
Prioress to make a vow with me, to him who, by the will 
of God, cured me, that if he will restore him to health be 
tween this time and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, 
our uncle the Father shall say a mass in his honour, to 
which you shall send Vincenzio, wearing the habit of our 
order to show that it is our holy Father who has granted 
him the favour of health. I will not fail to commend him 
to my Lord in the manner and with the love that you 
desire : I have never forgotten to do so since I heard of his 
illness. But my dearest mother and my honoured father 
must be resigned to the will of their Creator, who allows 
us to suffer so many tribulations that we may not be at 
tached to this world and may have reason to acknowledge 
our good God. I know that you love Him and confess 
Him and are wholly His; but He by means of trial would 
make you belong still more perfectly to Him. How clearly 
does not this very trouble prove to you that Jesus loves 
us and promises us all happiness in order that in the furnace 
of affliction we may become pure gold ! Let us then, dearest 
mother, accept our sufferings willingly from the hands of 
such a Benefactor. I send you a little relic : put it on 
Vincenzio with prayer and faith, but do not let him lose 
it, for it is valuable. Keep up your heart, dear mother, and 
be of good cheer, for thus would JeSus have you be. Com 
mend me to our father : may he be willing to endure with 
patience ! Jesus be with you ever. 

"Your daughter. 

O 7 

" SISTER CATHERINE. 
" (December 30, 1542."* 

* This child died; but a boy born afterwards was also named "Vincenzio," and is 
he one whom we shall find referred to later on as having married a certain "Cassandra." 



AND HER COMMUNITY 103 

The next letter from Catherine to her step-mother is 
interesting as a picture, not of family life only, but of the 
" educational " customs of the period. The girl-members 
of the many large Italian families were usually brought up 
within the cloister walls; and their parents sent them, by 
preference, to convents where an aunt or an elder sister 
was amongst the nuns and would be likely to give special 
motherly care to her young relations. Moreover, besides 
ensuring the immediate comfort and welfare of their child 
ren, the parents often found help towards the future "esta 
blishment " of their numerous daughters in adopting this 
plan; for, attracted by the ties of blood as well as by those 
of religion, and treated almost as affectionately as they would 
have been at home, the pupils very often became postulants 
for the novitiate at an extremely early age. If accepted, they 
were then with the parents consent placed immediately 
under a system of education specially adapted for the Re 
ligious state, and lived in this manner till such time as they 
were old enough to receive the habit, which was never given 
till they were thirteen or fourteen years old. 

St Catherine de Ricci fulfilled this office of "elder sister 
or aunt " of the cloister, most thoroughly, towards her four 
half-sisters, who were in turn sent to be under her care from 
their earliest years. The first, Lucrezia, was clothed there in 
1 543, taking the name of Maria Benigna under which title 
her aunt often speaks of her in family letters. Two others 
were accepted as postulants early in the next year, both of 
whom were professed in due time ; and it is apropos of their 
acceptance that we have the following letter from the saint, 
showing equally her own joy at having her young sisters 
received by her own community, and her anxiety not to 
wound their mother s susceptibilities: 

" I have done something which, such was my confidence 
in my dear mother, I believed that I might do without in 
curring her displeasure. I have, without your knowledge, 
procured the admission of Marietta and of Lena. The idea 
occurred to me and I felt sure that such was the will of God. 
I said to myself: I know that my mother will be satisfied 



104 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



with what I am going to do; and then I asked the mothers 
of the convent about it, and they willingly complied with 
my desire this evening, feast of St Vincent, martyr. Both 
my sisters had a large number of votes and I am very happy 
that they are here with us. Thank our Lord that He has 
allowed them to be received into the dwelling of so many 
of His handmaids. Do not, I beg of you, be anxious about 
them, but give them gladly to Jesus, who wills to have them. 
You can send for them whenever you like, either now or 
when you go to Pisa. This is left to you, but you must not 
send them anywhere else for this is their abode. My sisters 
are more happy than I can say, and you likewise must be 
contented and happy that Jesus has chosen them for Him 
self and called them from the folly and vanity of the world. 
Oh, what great mercy has He shown to them! Even if your 
feelings rebel, it will suffice if your reason remains firm, and 
I think^that such with you will be the case. For the love of 
God, and for my sake, you will take this step willingly and 
you will forgive me if I have presumed too far. I have no 
more to say save to commend myself to you, in conjunc 
tion with your daughter Sister Maria Benigna who is as 
happy in her vocation as she can be. She desires to be re 
membered to her sisters, and we both send our love to them 
and commend ourselves to our father and to the others. 
Mother Prioress and the other sisters send you greeting. 
May God keep you ever in His grace! 
"January 22, 1543." 

The reception of Fiammetta s fourth daughter, " Les- 
sandra " Catherine s own namesake has been described 
above, in one of the saint s letters to Pierfrancesco, who thus 
had the satisfaction of seeing all the remaining girls of his 
second family (one, if not more, had died before this time) 
safely placed under their eldest sister s care. 

About a month after her father s death, Catherine had 
the grief of losing her brother Giovanni the one to whom 
she sent a message about his spiritual concerns in the Lent 
of 1542. Though only her step-son, Giovanni seems to have 
had as deep a place in Fiammetta s heart as if he had been 



AND HER COMMUNITY 105 

her own, judging from the tone in which the saint sponta 
neously writes her sympathy over their mutual loss: 

" I learn from your letter that it has pleased God to call 
to Himself the soul of my dearest brother Giovanni. This 
news cuts me to the heart because I loved him, but reason 
bids me be patient and endure all that God does or allows, 
because it is willed by Him without whose good pleasure 
not a leaf moves upon a tree. I entreat of you, my dear 
mother, to have patience likewise, and to commit yourself 
wholly to our Lord, remembering that whatsoever He does 
is for His glory and for our welfare and that He knows and 
sees far better than we. We, as far as we are able, will as 
sist you with our prayers, imploring the Almighty to give 
you grace to endure your heavy trial. I do most truly sym 
pathize with you and bear you ever in mind, and pray for 
you continually as my duty obliges me to do. It boots little 
to commend myself to you, seeing that you are ever in my 
thoughts. I would fain hear some details as to my brother s 
end: whether he was willing to depart, and whether he re 
ceived the holy Sacraments. Will you then inform me about 
the matter, and also tell me where Ridolfo is and what he 
is doing? The Father our uncle sends you many remem 
brances: I believe that he is writing to you. I have given 
the news to Sister Maria Benigna: I have told her that you 
are not grieving more than you can help, and have bidden 
her assist you with her prayers. She begs to be remembered 
to you and so does Sister Maddalena who often prays for 
you. She feels for you very much, and makes our troubles 
her own. Nothing further remains for me to say except 
to commend myself to you. Let me know if there be any 
thing that I can do for you; I will serve you in any pos 
sible way. The whole convent is praying for you. May the 
Lord keep you ever in His grace: remember me to all, 
especially to Giovambatista, and tell him that I think of 
him and bid him be good. 

" October 16, 1544." 

It may probably be safely conjectured that part of Cathe 
rine s intense sympathy with her step-mother, in this loss, 



io6 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



was called forth by her pity for the recent widow as well 
as for the bereaved mother: the latter sentences of the 
letter seem certainly to point to this. No other letters on 
the subject of Pierfrancesco s death are given in any of the 
collections. 

Poor Fiammetta s troubles came thick upon her; for in 
the same year in which she had lost her husband and step 
son by death, she had next to lose the eldest and appa 
rently the favourite of her own sons by another way. The 
" Giovambatista " referred to in the above letter shortly 
afterwards announced his intention of becoming a Domi- 

o 

nican friar at San Marco. How very keenly, notwithstand 
ing her real holiness, the poor mother in her loneliness felt 
this blow, was fully realized and understood by Catherine; 
and in the two last letters that we give of this correspon 
dence she seems to put forth all her powers of tender per 
suasion and sympathy, as well as of heavenly exhortation, 
with the object of comforting and supporting the stricken 
widow in this final and evidently unexpected bereavement. 
The first letter is written immediately on receiving the 
news: 

" Dearest and honoured mother, health and consolation 
in the Lord, I do not doubt, from what I hear, that your 
son and my dearest brother, Giovambatista, will leave you 
and go into holy Religion. Sweetest mother, do me the 
pleasure to mitigate your grief, by thinking to whom he is 
going, while leaving you, his beloved mother. Consider that 
it is to none other than to his and our God, the Creator of 
heaven and earth. He is going into Religion to serve his 
most sacred Majesty with more security, with greater faith 
and stability; for you know what the world is for the young! 
If it be for your loss, as regards temporal necessities, which 
I know cause you some suffering, I am sorry for you. As 
regards higher reasons, I know that you have some cause, 
not having the Padre our uncle nor myself with you, but 
you must reflect that his only motive is the call from God. 
You must console yourself my dear mother, that it is the 
will of that God who gave him to you; for He might have 



AND HER COMMUNITY 107 

taken him some other way, with much more bitterness to 
you than the way he is being taken now. For you will be 
able to see him sometimes, and with untold satisfaction, in 
good health, as we may hope. Above all, if you feel troubled 
in a case of so much importance, keep firm and constant in 
the will of God, and commend yourself to Him who is the 
true Consoler of afflicted souls, as I know yours is, my 
dearest and most beloved mother in Christ Jesus. May He 
bless that heart which is His own, and relieve it of all its 
sorrow, and keep it calm in Himself and His will. Come 
and see us as soon as you can with the little sisters whom 
I desire greatly to see, if that be pleasing to God and His 
most holy Mother. Now be as little melancholy as you can, 
and we will not fail to pray for you and for all the others 
at home. Sister Maria Benigna does the same, and com 
mends herself to you. May Jesus be ever in the midst of 
your heart, and inflame it with His holy love, which is the 
highest I can desire for you. 
" December 30, 1544." 

Giovambatista entered San Marco on February 24, 1 545 ; 
and Fiammetta evidently poured forth all her grief at the 
parting and her anxiety about her beloved son s own 
health under the rigours of Dominican rule in a letter to 
her unfailing refuge in trouble; for Catherine writes thus 
early in March: 

" Honoured and dearest mother, health and greeting in 
Christ Jesus, I have received your letter, by which I see 
how grieved you are at parting from your dear son. And, 
my dear mother, I believe you, indeed I am certain of it 
and have very great sympathy with you, more than I can 
tell you. But being the work of our Lord, who is the high 
est Wisdom, console yourself, dear mother, and do not 
make yourself unhappy; or rather I should say, as little as 
you can, placing yourself entirely in the will of our Lord, 
as I am sure you have already done and will do. And so I 
pray you do not grieve any more for him, lest you make 
yourself ill, which I should not like, indeed I should be 



io8 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

displeased on account of the other children. And do not 
fear, dear mother, that Religion can do him any harm, as 
you say in your letter; and think that He who has called 
him to Himself in holy Religion will preserve and keep 
him always, and will not let him come to harm in those 
things which seem to us might be bad for him. Besides that, 
I can tell you that the fathers will take diligent care, and 
not let him want for anything, for they know very well 
what his strength is. Believe that they will use discretion, 
especially on this head; I also have commended him to 
them, and I know that they will do it, because they love 
him. So you must be happy and thank God that He has 
given such great grace to your son as to call him into 
Religion, which is a holy and perfect state. Therefore be 
of good heart, for our Lord will not forsake him, having 
taken him for His own, and given Him such a holy voca 
tion. I will say no more, except to commend myself to you, 
and to all. Mother Prioress and the others do the same. 
May our Lord be always with you. 
March 1, 154(5)." 



AND HER COMMUNITY 109 



CHAPTER X 

Catherine s demeanour during her Ecstasies of the Passion How the fame 
and proofs of them spread beyond the convent People attracted by 
them to Prato from the court The saint s personal virtues, penances, 
and humility in the midst of her fame The pope s commissioners 
pronounce in her favour 

WHILST CATHERINE was thus carrying on her simple, 
womanly intercourse with her family, the supernatural 
wonders of her daily life and especially those connected 
with her marvellous ecstasy were constantly rather increas 
ing than diminishing. Her fellow-nuns, never tired of the 
wondrous sight, and moreover like the " daughters of 
Jerusalem " longing to show their sympathy by mourn 
ing, now with the saint herself, and now with the Saviour 
of whom she became such a perfect likeness at these times, 
made a practise of regularly relieving each other during the 
weekly twenty-eight hours for which the ecstasy lasted, so 
that she was never left alone. 

Catherine s demeanour in these states was not only 
wonderful in itself, but was so wonderfully varied as to 
form a constantly fresh attraction to the onlookers. Her 
utterances, especially which seem to have been almost 
continuous during her ecstasies changed perpetually. 
Sometimes she would recite sacred Canticles, or Psalms of 
David that made plaintive echoes to the particular phase 
of the Passion that she might be going through such as 
Psalm cxviii, Beati immaculati in to, etc., corresponding 
to the long torture of the scourging; or Psalm xxi, Deus, 
Deus metis, respice in me, etc., full of the agonies of the 
crucifixion. She appeared to hear these words fall from the 
very lips of Jesus Christ Himself; and when she repeated 
them with His own majestic accent, and rendings of soul 
and voice, it was impossible to listen without deep emo 
tion and religious awe. 

At other times the saint s utterances would consist of 



no ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

colloquies, or burning discourses on the Sacred Victim 
on His sufferings on the ingratitude of sinners or on 
her own sins, whose malice she never ceased to deplore, 
and whose consequences she believed would be fatal to the 
whole human race. Again, she would sometimes pour forth 
the most earnest exhortations to her nuns, to incite them 
to the love of God. 

Some of these words, taken from the convent MSS., 
are given in full by Razzi, and may here be fitly quoted as 
an example of what the sisters, reverently following the 
great weekly ecstasy, were accustomed to listen to. 

One Friday, towards half-past eleven, contemplating 
our Saviour carrying His cross up the steep heights of 
Calvary, she was heard to cry aloud: 

" Oh, my divine Spouse, in what a state Thou art! 
Thy poor shoulders they cannot go on bearing such a 
weight! Ah! if I am ready to fall at only the sight of it, 
what must it be to Thee, who art so tender and delicate! 
Who could ever imagine the state Thou art in, O my 
Jesus? Eternal Father, is that indeed Thy Son? Ungrate 
ful, ungrateful sinners, acknowledge such love! I recom 
mend them to Thee, my divine Spouse. Oh, let them reap 
the merit of the sufferings that Thou art this moment en 
during for them, and for me who am the cause of all the 
evil that is being done in the world! O God, in what days 
I have to live! alas, alas! Thy honour is no longer de 
sired: no one thinks of Thy glory: none are anxious to 
serve and love Thee! I beseech Thee, O Lord, change the 
nature of souls a little, and give the spirit of uprightness 
and fervour. I recommend to Thy mercy the holy Church, 
and the city of Florence, which is Thy Mother Mary s 
daughter; also all our benefactors, all Religious, and all my 
beloved sisters here. 

" But what do I see, O my Spouse? savage dogs are 
setting upon Thee! Ah, how pitilessly they are dragging 
Thee down when Thy strength is so exhausted that it will 
not let Thee go on! Cruel cruel ! " 

After other exclamations of the same kind she came to 
the moment when Jesus, crushed down by the weight of 



AND HER COMMUNITY in 

His cross, meets His Mother coming round the mountain. 
She gave a heart-rending cry. 

"Poor Mother! how could she endure such grief? If 
only our nuns were there to keep her company and 
strengthen her in her anguish!" 

Then, after remaining in profound silence for a time, 
she thanked our Lord for all the blessings she had received 
from Him, and begged for fresh favours, particularly 
entreating Him graciously to address some words with 
His own lips to her dear sisters in Religion. And behold, 
after a few moments pause, Jesus making Catherine His 
mouthpiece spoke thus to her companions: 

" How long, my dear daughters, will you go on so 
negligently? When will you determine, once for all, to give 
your hearts perfectly to Me to come and hide yourselves 
in this Wound in My side and find pure joy and lasting 
happiness there? You say that to receive My gifts and 
graces the soul must be rightly disposed for them and 
you speak truly. You say, again, that this disposition of 
soul is given by Me, and you are right. But, none the less, 
if you would obtain it you must have great zeal, and use 
your own efforts. Therefore, if you would have My grace 
and My gifts to take possession of your hearts, tear from 
them all earthly affections: remember that the things of this 
world pass quickly away, never to return; whilst I shall 
never be wanting to My faithful spouses! Practise holy 
humility; be grateful for the favours of God; obey your 
superiors; keep peace and mutual love amongst yourselves; 
and profit by the words of My well-beloved spouse Cathe 
rine, in whom I show you a living image of the sorrowful 
mysteries of My own Passion."* 

But it was not for the convent sisters only that this 
spectacle was destined: Jesus Christ intended it to be the 
means of reviving faith beyond the cloister walls, and of 
arousing a more Christian spirit amid the populations of 
Tuscany and a large portion of Italy. Rumour had already 
been everywhere busy with the marvels concerning " the 
Saint of Prato." The wonderful phenomenon of her ecstasy, 

* Seraf. Razzi, lib. II, cap. xvii, p. 91. 



ii2 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

the veneration that she had inspired in her community, 
and the severe scrutiny to which the superiors of the Order 
had subjected her, were all reported and talked about, and 
to these reports was soon added the gift of miracles. 

Four miracles, happening within a short time of each 
other, are related of the year 1542. The two first were 
physical miracles one, the restoration, and subsequent in 
crease, of a quantity of corn belonging to the nuns, which 
had gone quite bad in the granary, by the saint s walking 
over it bare-footed; the other, the miraculous extinguish 
ing of a bad fire which broke out suddenly in the convent, 
by her making the sign of the cross over the flames. 

Shortly after this last event, a strange and sad occur 
rence, of spiritual kind, showed forth strongly both the 
hatred of Satan for Sister Catherine and the wonderful 
power of her intercession for even the most desperately 
hopeless souls. A certain young lady member of some 
great family, but whose name is not given had let her 
self get into the power of the evil one; and he made her 
the instrument of a violent assault on the saint s credit, by 
inciting her to join the community of San Vincenzio, and 
there endowing her with diabolical powers which caused 
her for some time to appear as a rival in holiness to Cathe 
rine. To make her like the latter, he caused her, from the 
beginning of her career in the convent, to go through 
many and serious states of illness, which she bore with 
extraordinary patience so much so that the sisters, know 
ing nothing of the spirit that guided her, were full of ad 
miration and revered her as an actual prodigy of penance. 
Then, to complete the apparent similarity between her and 
the true Spouse of Christ, the devil made her keep her cell 
from Thursdays at mid-day till Friday evenings, so as to 
bring about the idea that she also had her ecstasy of the 
Passion. But this proceeding began before long to raise 
serious doubts in the minds of the Father Confessor and 
the " elders " of the convent, especially as this sister prac 
tised most mysterious reserve about herself towards every 
one never opening her conscience to either her superiors 
or her spiritual father, for advice or direction. Before long, 



AND HER COMMUNITY 113 

St Catherine discovered the enemy s ruse; and, in concert 
with the very holiest souls in the convent, began to pray 
earnestly for the defeat of all his projects. Then the devil, 
seeing clearly that he was unmasked, and fearing to see his 
prey snatched from him, made one final attempt at the 
damnation of this wretched girl, by insinuating the hor 
rible suggestion that she should tread the cross of her Re 
deemer under foot. She consented; and, the crime accom 
plished, Satan was on the point of completing his work by 
dragging his victim the measure of whose iniquity seemed 
now full away with him to eternal flames. The victory, 
however, was not to be his, close as it seemed. 

Catherine had been supernaturally warned of the poor 
soul s danger by her guardian angel, and went in haste to 
the sister s cell. She got in, in spite of actual resistance 
from the evil spirit; and, taking firm possession of the 
miserable, hardened creature, never left her till she had 
fully opened her eyes to her crime and her awful peril, and 
had further inspired her with absolute confidence in the 
infinite mercy of our Lord. She made a general confession 
of her life, with every sign of deep repentance; and had the 
happiness of dying a few days after she had been recon 
ciled to her God, with the assurance of eternal salvation, as 
was revealed to the saint. 

The last of the four wonders worked by Catherine at 
this time was as follows: 

On September 17, 1542, a notorious thief was con 
demned to death in the town of Prato. The unfortunate 
man, who had not expected a capital sentence, gave him 
self up to despair; and sullenly rejected every attempt 
made to console or sympathize with him. The members of 
the Misericorde confraternity " brothers of a good death," 
as they were called in the middle ages, part of whose work 
was to prepare criminals for a Christian end, appealed to St 
Catherine to beg the grace of conversion for him from 
God. Moved by the thought of his danger, Catherine began 
to pray for the poor soul; and she did this so efficaciously 
that the wretched man was quite miraculously transformed. 
He became so gentle and humble in view of his death, says 



n 4 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



Razzi, that he prepared himself for it with the greatest 
devotion. He accepted it as the punishment and expiation 
of all his crimes, and a means of showing his love for his 
divine Saviour, who had voluntarily submitted to the shame 
of just such a death, though innocent and free from all sin.* 
The occurrence is referred to by Sister Maddalena Strozzi 
in words that clearly bring out the sympathy felt, in those 
monastic institutions often abused by the world as heart 
lessly " egoistic," for the outcasts of society who have none 
but God and His special servants to care for them: 

"This morning," she writes, "when I heard the bell 
that announced the death of that unhappy man, I ex 
horted Catherine to pray for his soul. I have been doing 
so ever since morning, she answered, c and will go on 
doing it. Then, I having asked her whether she had good 
hope of his salvation, she replied Yes ; and for a whole 
hour that is, for the whole time that the proceedings of 
the execution lasted she remained in prayer for him, com 
pletely absorbed in God as, indeed, she had been the 
whole morning." 

Accounts of these miracles getting wind in Florence, 
and adding to the credit that already attached to Sister 
Catherine s name, she became more and more the theme 
of conversation in " society " there. Prato was the place of 
villegiatura for the greatest Florentine families; the saint 
herself was daughter of an illustrious house; and it was 
well known that Pierfrancesco de Ricci, her father, was 
thought no little of at the court of Cosmo de Medici 
all of which facts increased the interest felt about her by 
the inhabitants of the capital, which interest received its 
final touch by means of a miracle that occurred actually in 
their midst, through her intercession. This was the re 
covery from a hopeless illness of Maria Gualterotti, wife 
of Filippo Salviati, a cousin of the Grand Duke s. An aunt 
of Salviati s Maria Guicciardini by name advised him, 
when all human means had failed, and he was in despair of 
her life, to write and beg the prayers of Sister Catherine at 
Prato. He did this also sending " an alms of ten crowns " 

* Seraf. Razzi, lib. II, cap. xiv, p. 83. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 115 

to the convent in a letter to Fra Timoteo de Ricci, not 
liking to address Catherine herself, as a stranger. He had 
no sooner dispatched the letter than a marvellous thing 
happened to his sick wife. He had to disturb her from an 
apparently unconscious state to give her a little food; and 
she appearing to wake suddenly as if from sleep spoke, 
and complained that he had taken her away from one of 
the most delightful pleasures she had ever enjoyed! She 
then declared that she had been transported in spirit to 
Prato, where she had been in Sister Catherine s company, 
and been overwhelmed with tenderness and with spiritual 
consolation. It appeared afterwards that before she had re 
ceived Salviati s letter the saint had known all about his 
wife; and that when Fra Timoteo brought her the request 
for prayers she not only told him that the lady would 
recover, but prophesied that she would have a child who 
was destined to become a nun in San Vincenzio a pro 
phecy that was eventually realized. 

The story of this miracle is told by Razzi; and he 
further adds that, when her recovery was complete, Salvi 
ati s wife went to Prato to thank Sister Catherine, and re 
cognized her at once amongst a number of sisters who came 
together to receive the visitor, though they had before her 
illness been entirely unknown to each other. 

After this wonderful occurrence, the enthusiasm of the 
Florentine great people for their holy young fellow-citizen 
seems to have culminated in a kind of general " rush " to 
Prato, to make her personal acquaintance, or at least to hear 
more of the marvellous ecstasy which had been so much 
talked of, from her fellow-nuns. The movement was in 
augurated by Cosmo de Medici s mother, Maria Salviati, 
who was aunt to Filippo, and therefore specially touched 
by his wife s miraculous cure. The circumstances of her 
first sight of the saint are peculiarly interesting, as proving 
the coolness of head with which even these enthusiastic 
Italians chose to test the truth of popular reports as to the 
supernatural. 

Maria came to Prato at the beginning of November, 
1543 which was only a few days after the miracle in 



n6 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

Florence and happened to reach the monastery on a Fri 
day, when Catherine was in the midst of her usual ecstasy. 
The princess was a prudent woman of enlightened mind 
and great common-sense. Resisting the strong instantaneous 
attraction, which the mere sight of the young saint was 
wont to exercise over those who beheld her for the first 
time, Maria Salviati placed herself calmly in front of her, 
carefully examining her attitude and gestures touching 
her with her own hands gazing fixedly at her face, and at 
the varying expressions of countenance and, in short, 
studying her condition in every possible way, so as to be 
personally convinced before believing. Her study, however, 
did not last very long: touched interiorly by the Holy 
Spirit with a grace that made her suddenly a better woman, 
and drew her wholly towards God, she soon gave her 
self up completely to the inexpressible charm of the saint s 
presence. She remained on the spot for a long time, deep 
in contemplation, shedding tears of love and compunction; 
and then declared over and over again that " it would be 
impossible to witness a holier or a more wonderful sight 
on earth." * She left the convent so overwhelmingly con 
vinced of Catherine s high degree of sanctity that she could 
not help saying to the venerable nuns who escorted her on 
departure in honour of her high rank: "O sisters! make 
the most of the heavenly treasure you possess, and take 
great care of everything that such a holy creature uses; for 
a time will come when the least thing she has touched will 
work miracles !"f 

On returning to Florence, Maria Salviati not only filled 
the court with minute reports of what she had seen and felt 
convinced of, but showed the reality of her impressions by 
the effect that they produced on her life. It was universally 
noticed that she had brought with her from Prato a soul 
far more detached than before from the things of earth, 
more absorbed in God, and ever rising higher towards Him 

J O O 

by a more active and fervent piety than she had formerly 
shown. This holy influence was destined never to be weak- 

* Sandrini ? lib- I, cap. xxix, p. 92. f Seraf, Razzi, lib. II, cap. xii, p. 77. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 117 

ened, for she died about a month after her return, with all 
her heavenly ardour undiminished. 

For some time yet, however, the " pious pilgrimages " 
to Prato and the firm belief in Catherine s wonderful states 
were confined to the ladies of the court: the men even 
though full of respect and veneration for the deceased prin 
cess and her convictions refused to give in their adhesion 
at once, and appear to have held back all the more coldly 
when they saw the women so deeply and enthusiastically 
impressed. One woman the wife of the Grand Duke, 
Eleonora of Toledo was at first a little inclined to halt 
between the two views, and not to follow the rest of her 
sex lest she should be looked down upon; but at last she 
too determined to see for herself, and in the March of 
1544 she went to Prato, taking in her suite, besides her 
ladies, some of the court gentlemen. She was at first 
admitted to the convent with only some maids of honour, 
and brought into the room where the saint was in ecstasy. 
She began gazing at her with the keenest curiosity; and, 
noticing her immobility, tried to rouse her from it by 
taking hold of her arms and neck and attempting with all 
her strength to drag- her towards her. But the uselessness 

O O 

of her efforts soon showed Eleonora that she was strug 
gling with a divine phenomenon. Moreover, she became 
overpowered by a religious feeling which mastered her, 
little by little, in spite of herself; and at last she, in turn, 
remained immovable in the presence of the holy sister, 
rapt in admiration and filled with tender love for our Lord. 
By and by she turned to her maids of honour no less 
moved than herself and said: "When we see, we must 
believe. If we were to tell my Lord the Duke what we 
have seen and felt in our hearts, he would say that it is all 
nothing but mere emotion and women s piety, not worth 
crediting: and yet we have these wonders before our eyes 
and can touch them with our own hands!"* Thereupon, 
feeling that at all costs she must take back some incontro 
vertible testimony to court, she entreated the prioress, for 
the honour of God and of Catherine His spouse, to let 

* Vita Anon.y cap. viii, p. 48. 



n8 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

the court gentlemen whom she had brought in her train 
be admitted to the convent. Strict enclosure not being 
canonically enforced in houses of the Third Order, the 
prioress having first consulted two Father Superiors 
consented. The doors were then opened to three of the 
duchess s train to Mgr Dom Pedro de Toledo, her own 
cousin and Bishop of Forli; to Dom Angelo Marsi, director 
of the Hospital of Santa Maria Novella; and to Signer Baccio 
Lanfredini, her excellence s major-domo. Ushered into 
Sister Catherine s presence, these illustrious personages 
were instantly affected in the same way that their mistress, 
and the duke s mother before her, had been; and there 
they remained for some time, chained to the spot by some 
indescribable splendour in the saint s face, and overmastered 
by feelings of sudden contrition for their sins and of irre 
sistible love and tenderness. When they left, Dom Angelo 
Marsi said to the nuns that " God had given them in 
Catherine perhaps the most brilliant mirror of sanctity 
that was at the moment existing in the whole of Christen 
dom." The Bishop of Forli as a true Spaniard after 
speaking of the interior grace he had just received, de 
clared that "if he were half-way between St James s in 
Galicia and San Vincenzio s convent, he would make a 
second pilgrimage to the latter, rather than go to the former, 
for his soul s sake." As to the Signer Baccio Lanfredini, 
he had received on the spot one of those mighty strokes 
of grace from on high which produce immediate disgust 
for earthly things. Wounded, whilst at Catherine s feet, 
with the true love of God, he had then and there made 
the resolve to avoid even venial sin for the future, so as 
the better to consecrate his life; and, henceforth, no courtly 
dissipations, nor the public duties of offices in Pisa where 
he was shortly afterwards appointed governor ever dis 
tracted him from the work of inward perfection and union 
with his Creator, which he carried on unceasingly till 
his death. 

The testimony of these men all known to be very 
intelligent and of high character produced in Florence 
the effect hoped for by the grand duchess, and Cathe- 



AND HER COMMUNITY 119 

fine s wonderful gifts were acknowledged to be not merely 
the fancy of enthusiastic women. The " pilgrimages " to 
Prato immensely increased, and not a week passed in which 
some gentleman or lady of the court, or member of a noble 
family, did not go there at first, very often, secretly to 
satisfy his or her curiosity. But, however privately they 
had gone, the results of all these visits were proclaimed 
on the house-tops; and soon all mystery about such jour 
neys ceased, curiosity giving way to real devotion; and the 
Florentines made public expeditions in common to see the 
marvellous spectacle. From Florence the movement spread 
before long through Tuscany to other parts of Italy. 
In towns and private dwellings people told one another 
that the young daughter of Pierfrancesco de Ricci had 
become " the spouse of Jesus Christ crucified " ; and that 
every week she was seen to suffer with Him, in both body 
and soul, all the pains of the Passion. From all parts they 
flocked to San Vincenzio, to see for once in a lifetime if 
only for an hour, or perhaps a moment so great a marvel. 
Rome, Bologna, Milan, and many other places caught the 
pious contagion, and successively sent their most illus 
trious inhabitants to witness this extraordinary spectacle. 

But whilst Sister Catherine was thus drawing crowds 
to the convent by the reports of her supernatural gifts, she 
was living when out of her ecstatic state a life of morti 
fication and simple humility amongst her sisters, which 
was a clearer proof to them of the reality of her union with 
God than any of the marvels that He worked through 
her. Like all great saints, she was an intense lover of 
voluntary penance, and practised it to a degree and in a 
manner truly Dominican. From May of the year 1542 
she had taken to perpetual abstinence, to which she seems 
to have been supernaturally inspired; and this abstinence 
she made to consist of living almost entirely on vegetable 
diet, hardly ever eating fish, and only taking a little broth 
when she was ill. On this point of entire abstinence the 
Rule making it only partial Catherine had to endure a 
good deal of opposition from her community, as Rose of 
Lima in the same case had to do from her parents; and it 



120 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

was only after several times, both openly and secretly, 
testing the real supernatural inability to take meat which 
had been imparted to the saint, that the nuns gave in to 
her desires. Being left free in this matter, she next pro 
ceeded to drop by degrees every sort of seasoning, or 
delicacy of preparation, that could make her food more 
palatable; and then, further, she diminished its quantity, 
so as to live in a perpetual fast. When she possibly could, 
she ate only the coarsest bread brought to the convent by 
the sisters who begged for the community; and three 
times a week she condemned herself regularly to live 
entirely on bread and water, that she might be like the 
poorest of the poor. Her biographer, Serarmo Razzi, 
breaks forth into an apostrophe to gluttons, as he describes 
these fasts. "And it was on this regimen," he writes, 
" that Catherine lived to the age of nearly sixty-six. So 
true is it that frugality and sobriety prolong life, and that 
good cheer and intemperance are the things that shorten it 
by disease and premature death! " 

The saint s mastery over sleep was as complete as that 
over food: indeed, she is said to have attained to never 
sleeping for more than about an hour in a week, except 
under obedience, when she would go to sleep immediately, 
but be heard praying all the time. When Sister Madda- 
lena, her ever-faithful guardian, remonstrated with her on 
the extreme pitch to which she had brought her habit of 
watching, she is reported to have replied: "Oh, never 
mind, dear mother. It is the will of Jesus that prayer 
should serve me for sleep." 

As regards inflicting pain on her body, St Catherine 
was behind none of the great Dominican saints in fervour. 
She wore a rough hair-shirt, with a girdle of sharp iron 
points beneath, and imitated her "holy Father" in her 
disciplines, which she took nightly with an iron scourge, 
and offered, _after his example, for a threefold intention: 
i.e., for the sins of the whole world, for the souls in purga 
tory, and for her own sins and those of her sisters in 
religion. 

Beyond all these bodily mortifications, however, in 



AND HER COMMUNITY 121 

respect of making Catherine beloved and revered in her 
community, was her continued and increasing humility. 
The account of her early years of trial amongst the nuns 
has shown how remarkable was this virtue in her from the 
beginning; and neither the full acknowledgement of her 
supernatural gifts by superiors and companions, nor the 
visits paid to the convent which showed how she was be 
coming publicly known, made the slightest difference to 
her genuine, heartfelt conviction of her own personal worth- 
lessness. The more she was favoured by God, the less did 
she think of herself and the more humble and lowly became 
her bearing towards others. As regarded the community, 
her attitude was that of simple servitude: she was always 
thanking God for having placed her amongst such holy 
people, and insisted on waiting upon all whenever it was 
possible, and on doing all the lowest and most disagreeable 
work that she could find. As regarded the outer world and 
the visitors who began coming in such numbers to see her, 
she had but one wish: to escape them. Sometimes, of course 
outsiders coming for this purpose were allowed merely to 
look at her whilst in a state of ecstasy, and then took their 
departure; but at other times her superiors ordered her to 
see people who wished to speak with her. If Catherine ever 
found out, indirectly, that this was likely to happen, she 
did her best to hide before any obedience could be laid 
upon her; and stories are told of all sorts of odd places in 
which she took refuge that nobody might find her: such 
as a thick bed of fennel in the garden, a cupboard in the 
lingerie, and even the pigeon-house ! To this last place she 
mounted with the help of the kitchen sister, who find 
ing her in great distress at the prospect of being made a 
"show" of to a stranger on the occasion of a certain pro 
cession gave her a ladder to climb up by, assuring her 
that she was perfectly safe there: as turned out to be the 
case, for Sister Maddalena only found her missing charge 
when the function was over, and the sister who had helped 
her made known the hiding place. Catherine is said to have 
been found on this occasion kneeling, surrounded by the 
pigeons, and with one little creature perched on her head, 



122 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

whilst she herself was calmly rapt in ecstasy; and to have 
said quietly to her mistress, when she came to herself: 
" Did you see how familiarly those dear birds had come 
round me ?" 

That such humility as Catherine s was accompanied by 
perfect gentleness and sweetness of manner and speech, 
and by obedience wherein no flaw could be detected, need 
hardly be said. In fact, it is to her utter obedience that her 
biographers owe much of their knowledge of her super 
natural gifts. As in her early days, she never voluntarily 
talked of her inner life; and nothing would have induced 
her, of her own accord, to make known any special favours 
or visions granted to her in private ; so that nothing be 
yond the outward marvels of her life would have been dis 
covered in the community had she been left to herself. 
When, however, her superiors put her under obedience 
to tell her special "mistress" everything of a supernatural 
kind that passed within her, it would no more have oc 
curred to her to disobey in this matter than in any other ; 
and she gave the account of her various states with the 
openness and simplicity of a child. 

In intensity of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, 
Catherine appears to have at least equalled any saint in the 
calendar; and many touching stories are told of visions 
beheld by her in the sacred Host, or on the altar, as rewards 
of her faith and love. Above all was she noted for the ex 
treme care and fervour with which she always prepared for 
Communion, and for the earnestness with which she la 
boured to instil the same devotion and reverence which 
she herself felt and practised into her fellow-nuns. She was 
wont to beg of our Lord breaking forth sometimes into 
burning words, heard by all to inspire her with the need 
ful powers for making them understand the great graces 
and benefits received in the holy Eucharist, which she felt 
that few people realize. At one time according to the 
custom of the age she had great difficulty in getting leave 
to communicate as often as she wished ; and it was only in 
answer to her unwearying prayers and complaints to her di- 



AND HER COMMUNITY 123 

vine Spouse that the convent confessor was at last inspired 
to give her leave for daily Communion. 

But the private virtues, and the desire for hiddenness, 
which made the young saint such an object of love and 
reverence within her convent home, could of course not 
be known to the outside world or to ecclesiastical superiors 
in high places living at a distance. The public fact was that 
a large concourse of people was being attracted to a convent 
in an obscure corner of Tuscany by the report of a young 
nun s great sanctity; and before long Rome ever- watchful 
for abuses took fright. Paul III, then pope, suspected the 
possibility of some blameworthy motive in the commu 
nity for so attracting outsiders, and he privately ordered 
Cardinal Roberto de Pucci, Bishop of Pistoja and "Dio 
cesan" of San Vincenzio, to go himself to the spot, care 
fully study the facts of the case, and make an official report. 
Accordingly, professing to go as one of the ordinary pious 
people who were daily making pilgrimages to Prato, this 
eminent prelate, with two other bishops and several eccle 
siastics, made his appearance unexpectedly at the convent. 
Taken thus by surprise, both Catherine herself and the com 
munity fully stood the test. The reality of the marvels re- 
ported,the saint s great gifts and solid virtues, and the conduct 
of her superiors in the matter, all made a deep impression on 
the pope s representative. They were unanimous in inform 
ing His Holiness that, so far from having done anything 
either to bring about or to encourage the influx of people 
to their house, the nuns and their immediate superiors of 
the Order had shown both their prudence and the noble 
simplicity of their character by doing their best to lessen 
it. They had been, as everybody acknowledged, inflexible 
in keeping the majority of visitors from holding intercourse 
with the saint, and had only admitted persons whom they 
could not refuse without rashness, or who had a right to 
demand admittance. They further formally stated that "in 
the grave state of things now prevalent in the Church, such 
a concourse to witness such a spectacle could not come to 
gether but to the great advantage of true Christians and 



I2 4 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



the confusion of heretics; for that the extraordinary graces, 
of which they themselves had just been witnesses, consti 
tuted a most striking demonstration of the truth of the 
Catholic faith."* 

Thus, by the end of 1544 her own community, and 
then her fellow-countrymen, having been already convinced 
we find the seal of the supreme spiritual authority placed 
on Catherine de Ricci s sanctity, and on the reality and 
closeness of her union with God in her ecstatic states. 

* Sandrini, lib. I, cap. xxix, p. 91. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 125 



CHAPTER XI 

Catherine s mission to the sixteenth century The great personages of 
Italy throng to Prato The saint made sub-prioress (1547) Death 
of Mother Raffaella da Fae nza Catherine s influence on souls 
Her miraculous power of converting sinners, and expiatory offerings 
for them Her devotion to the souls in purgatory 

THE pope s commissioners might indeed well speak of the 
importance of such a testimony to the truth as was afforded 
by St Catherine s weekly ecstasies, just at the particular 
period when they attracted public attention. The middle 
and latter part of the sixteenth century was truly " the hour 
of the powers of darkness " in the form of Protestantism 
apparently triumphant throughout nearly all the countries 
in the north of Europe; whilst, in Italy, the morals of those 
in high and what should have been holy places were 
unhappily providing an object-lesson for the promotion of 
heresy in the name of " reform." 

It is told of our saint that she had to share our Lord s 
sight of the sins of mankind during His agony in the 
Garden, by herself seeing, before the beginning of each 
weekly ecstasy, terrible visions of the iniquities going on 
at that time all over Europe, and especially in Italy. 

One day (Sandrini relates) she was carried in spirit to 
Germany, where she saw that grand country devastated by 
Luther s heresy, under the appearance of vast tracts of land 
filled with enormous serpents, and with imaginary terrible 
beasts, all engaged in tearing the land into bits, which they 
separated from the mother-country, as limbs might be torn 
piecemeal from a body. Another time the Spirit of God 
caused her to go successively to all the spots in Europe that 
the great heresy had attacked secretly. When she reached 
the towns of Italy, and beheld the wide spread of contagion 
amongst them, she sent forth a cry of horror and surprise: 
" O my God, if all those who are heretics at heart were 



126 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



to profess their errors publicly, the number of faithful would 
indeed be small ! " 

The convent archives tell us that holy Church often 
appeared to her, covered symbolically with horrible, dis 
figuring wounds; and that she would then cry out, with 
sobs and tears: " Ah, my divine Spouse, I recommend Thy 
whole Church and Thy mercy! Oh, how many Judases are 
profaning and betraying her! Why why should we keep 
silence any longer? Why not tell the truth aloud? O Lord, 
Lord, renew this poor Church, which belongs to Thee, but 
in which Thou canst now behold no form of a Church ! " 
or words to the same effect. f 

At other times, praying in ecstasy for the sins of the 
world, and seeing Rome in a mysterious vision, she would 
express her grief in some such utterance as: "Poor city of 
Rome! what sins are committed there what lives are being 
led! Have pity on her, O Lord come to her help! And 
help too, I beseech Thee, the whole of Italy, and all Chris 
tendom. Ah, what blindness! What ignorance! " J 

It was after such visions as these forming her Geth- 
semane that the saint followed her divine Master, in spirit, 
over the Brook Cedron by the Way of the Cross to Gol 
gotha; and, from every quarter of Italy, people began 
crowding to Prato as to a second Jerusalem, there to gaze 
upon the sacred Victim on His altar of sacrifice. For, when 

* Sandrini, lib. II, cap. ii, p. 156. t Le Lettere, Document!, etc., p. no. 

J What the saint was thus mysteriously beholding from the depths of her convent, 
the fathers assembled from all parts of the world at the Council of Trent were at the 
very same time, and almost in the same words, publicly proclaiming. During the second 
session, the Bishop of St Mark s addressed the great assembly with a burning exhorta 
tion to provide a remedy for the "mortal wounds" of the Church; and, in pointing out 
the enemies to be combated, spoke first of " the open deserters who are upsetting every 
thing, destroying the Sacraments, and attacking us with our own weapons the Holy 
Scriptures which they twist and mutilate " ; and then went on to name the secret enemies, 
"who, pretending to belong to us, pervert not only individuals, but sometimes whole 
towns." Speaking further of the corruption of morals, he exclaimed : " Look at Rome 
placed in the midst of nations to shine like a star! Look at Italy France Spam! You 
will see neither sex, nor age, nor condition of life that is not corrupt. Scythians Afri 
cans Thracians live not more impure or criminal lives!" 

Then, turning boldly from the effect to the cause, he went on : "O Pastors ! O 
towers placed on a hill ! We, who ought to shine more brightly than the sun we it is 
who have led away the flock of the Lord by our example. They thought us the better 
the more highly we were placed; and it is by forming their lives on our pattern that they 
have been dragged down to that abyss, whence they can never rise except with us, when 
we shall climb again to the heights of virtue from which we have fallen!" (Rohrbacher, 
Hhtoiie de I Eglise, Vol. XXIV, Book Ixxv, p. 18.) 



AND HER COMMUNITY 127 

once in Catherine s presence, the beholders of her seraphic 
union with Christ crucified immediately forgot the copy, 
to think only of the divine original; and, like the centu 
rion at the foot of the cross, each new comer struck his 
breast and bewailed his sins, with heart softened by love 
for a God who has so loved us. 

This strange spectacle for it is here necessary to ante 
date matters a little went on for twelve years; and during 
that time it never ceased to attract, for witnesses, the most 
illustrious and influential members of Roman and Tuscan 
society, princes, princesses, nobles, savants, magistrates, 
bishops, eminent religious of different orders in short, 
people from every class whence the leaders of religion and 
patriotism spring constantly went and came around the 
humble Dominican convent, and carried back to their 
respective spheres full accounts of the impressions they 
had received. These impressions, moreover, continued 
throughout to be as deep as those made on the first wit 
nesses of the ecstasy. We are told that it almost seemed as 
though the Son of God was pouring forth the effects of His 
Redemption in floods over the favoured spot, so marvel 
lous were the conversions there worked and, above all, 
the brilliant intellectual lights granted as to the truth. No 
body was allowed to assist at these mysteries of love without 
experiencing wonderful results in some degree each accor 
ding to his own state or capacity. 

When we consider such a state of things as this, we 
cannot wonder that the long continuance of this great 
ecstasy was alone sufficient to revive faith in innumerable 
souls, and to secure its possession to the inhabitants of the 
country where the miracle was wrought; and that hence 
the clouds of error drifting over from Germany were 
quickly dispersed, on reaching Tuscan skies, by the sun of 
Catherine s holiness. 

History has carefully preserved the names of many 
amongst the great personages who came in succession, 
both during these twelve years and afterwards, to admire 
the marvels of grace revealed in the saint of Prato and to 
profit by them. To begin with, princes of the Church 



128 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

besides Roberto de Pucci, Cardinals Gaddi, Cafarelli, and 
Marcello Cervini who afterwards became pope under the 
name of Marcellus II are all named as having been wit 
nesses of the ecstasy of the Passion, and all gave striking 
testimony to it, declaring that they considered it one. of 
the greatest graces of their lives to have gained Catherine s 
powerful intercession with God. Fra Vincenzio Giustiniani 
who was at first General of the Dominican Order, and 
afterwards a cardinal confided most important and delicate 
matters of business to Catherine, and took her advice 
about them. It is reported of him, and also of Cardinal 
Aldobrandini, who mounted St Peter s Chair as Cle 
ment VIII, that nothing ever inspired either of them with 
a higher standard, or with more generous impulses in the 
service of God, than the few hours of intercourse that they 
obtained with her at San Vincenzio. When St Pius V was 
pope (which was after the public miracle of the weekly 
ecstasy had ceased, as will be seen) he ordered his nephew, 
Cardinal Michael Bonelli, to make a pilgrimage to Prato 
on the way to Spain where he went as legate to negotiate 
the league against the Turks in order to see the saint, 
and recommend his mission to her prayers. He found so 
much good result from the visit that he returned to the 
convent on his way back, to offer his thanks and to see 
Catherine again. Another important witness to her won 
derful gifts was Alessandro de Medici afterwards Pope 
Leo XI who could not help paying homage to her emi 
nent sanctity, in spite of knowing her deep devotion to 
Savonarola, who was to him so antipathetic. Whilst living 
close to Prato, as Archbishop of Florence, he used to go 
from time to time to visit her, to beg for her prayers and 
to imbibe some of the wisdom^ of God that fell from 
her lips. 

Amongst Tuscan "great ladies" besides the Princess 
Maria Salviati and the Grand-Duchess Eleonora, already 
mentioned the following connections of the reigning house 
are specially named as having visited and known the saint: 
The Arch-Duchess Joanna of Austria, wife of Francesco de 
Medici ; her two daughters, Eleonora and Maria, of whom 



AND HER COMMUNITY 129 

one became by marriage Duchess of Mantua, and the other 
Queen of France, as wife to Henri IV; Francesco de 
Medici s two sisters, Duchesses of Ferrara and Braciano ; 
Christina of Lorraine, wife of the Grand-Duke Fernando 
de Medici ; and Eleonora Orsini, wife of Duke Sforza 
of Milan. 

Of foreign personages who went to Prato, the most 
remarkable were the Dukes of Mantua and Ferrara ; the 
King of Bavaria s son ; and Don Luis Belasio, the Spanish 
ambassador. 

Thus, whilst in Germany, England, Denmark and Swe 
den, the ruling classes were seizing upon the property of 
Religious houses, and using the possession of riches by 
monastic orders as an argument against Catholic doctrine, 
one simple maiden, in her humble cell, was attracting all 
the power and royalty of Italy by the mere odour of her 
virtues ; and she had but to let fall a few words from her 
lips or even just to let herself be seen invested with the 
supernatural glory of her Lord to draw forth from all 
who approached her a cry of faith and love for the Church ; 
for what could a mother able to bring forth such children 
be, but the true spouse of Christ ? 

This incessant concourse of people to the convent- 
some wishing to see Catherine in ecstasy, but many also to 
have personal intercourse with her in her ordinary state, 
that they might interest her in their concerns, and beg for 
her prayers or her advice began, in time, to make the 
saint s extreme unwillingness to appear somewhat of a 
difficulty to her superiors. Even at ordinary times of 
year, some visitor of note was pretty certain to appear 
more than once a day; but through the spring and summer, 
when Prato and its neighbourhood were the resorts of 
nearly the whole Florentine nobility, crowds daily invaded 
the convent. The fact that only a few privileged people 
were actually admitted to see the saint in no wise di 
minished the pressure or discouraged the visitors, who 
would endure hours of waiting for the mere chance of just 
looking at her from the parlour or the church ; and when 
Sister Catherine had managed one of her "hidings" so 



1 30 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

cleverly that she could not be found even for those who 
had been allowed entrance, and promised an interview with 
her, the superiors were at their wits end as to how they 
should appease the disappointed devotees. If these hap 
pened, moreover, to be princes or princesses or other 
people of importance in some way the matter became 
even more serious, as injury might accrue to the commu 
nity if influential visitors were offended, however unrea 
sonably. Besides this, the nuns were really grieved, from 
a spiritual point of view, to find themselves so often com 
pelled to refuse what might be a very great advantage to 
the souls of others, simply on account of their holy young 
sister s shrinking humility. 

For all these reasons the community at last determined 
to consult their chief superior, the prior of St Dominic s 
monastery. This office was just then filled by FraTommaso 
Roffi de San Miniato, a man of great learning and wis 
dom, who after having once been strongly prejudiced 
against her was a devoted admirer of Catherine, and 
humbly called himself her spiritual son. He at once gave 
very decided advice : that they should appoint her sub- 
prioress of the convent, which would satisfy the devotion 
of the faithful without in any way hurting her humility, 
since it was one of the regular duties of this office to ac 
company the prioress to the parlour whenever she went 
to see strangers. This answer seemed like a flash of light 
to Mother Raffaella da Faenza, who was then once again 
prioress. The intense devotion of this saintly woman to 
the convent, as one of its early foundresses, and the pro 
phetic spirit with which she had greeted and believed in 
Catherine de Ricci on her arrival there as a child, have 
been already described. She was now the only one left of 
those nine first Religious of San Vincenzio ; and with 
her old ardent longing to see "a saint" ruling her com 
munity had for some time past been secretly wishing to 
associate her favourite in the government of the house, as 
her own sub-prioress. 

A humble opinion of her own judgement, however, and 
zeal for the convent traditions, which had hitherto forbid- 



AND HER COMMUNITY 131 

den the raising of any but fully-matured subjects to this 
office, kept her from carrying out the desire on her own 
responsibility, in view of Catherine s youth. But when the 
initiative came from a man of such personal eminence and 
such unquestioned authority as this prior, she hesitated no 
longer, but accepted his decision as a voice from heaven; 
and thus the young saint, in spite of her strong resistance 
and actual tears of entreaty to be spared, was officially in 
stalled as sub-prioress on December 21, 1547, when she 
was not quite twenty-six years old. It is said of M. Raffaella 
on this occasion that her joy at seeing her longing fulfilled, 
and the " child of her desires " placed at her side in autho 
rity, was so great that she then and there raised her hands 
and eyes to heaven and took farewell of earth, begging God 
to let her soul quickly depart in peace from this world. It 
is certain, at any rate, that this appointment of Catherine 
was almost the last act of the holy prioress, for she fell ill 
a month afterwards, never to rise from her sick-bed again. 
Her last hour came, and found her smiling and joyful. She 
sent for, and gave wise counsel to all the nuns from the 
novices up to the " ancients " of the house as the oldest 
professed mothers were called; and then, faithful to her 
character of " precursor " to St Catherine de Ricci, she 
recommended to their votes, as the best person for the 
office of prioress after her own death, Sister Maddalena 
Strozzi. She felt that such an election, by keeping the 
personal guardian and mistress of the saint united to her in 
the government of the house, would, better than any other 
arrangement, ensure perfection for the community. This 
done, the last survivor of the foundresses blessed her 
children, and breathed forth her spirit in peace. She died 
on January 28, 1548, at midnight; and we are told that 
Catherine had revealed to her that this beautiful soul spent 
about five hours in purgatory, for its perfect purifica 
tion, and then, with early dawn on earth, took flight to 
heaven. 

Raffaella s work was finished : that of the " saint " for 
whom she had prayed, and for whose coming she had pre 
pared the ground, was yet to be accomplished. 



1 32 ST CATHERINE DE RICC1 

This saint, then, has now to be viewed in the altered 
position of being brought, by virtue of her office, into more 
immediate contact with souls outside her community than 
she had been before ; and we have to see how, under these 
circumstances, she unconsciously came to exercise more 
and more widely that grandest of all Christ-like faculties 
the power of touching sinners hearts and winning the grace 
of conversion for them. 

Catherine s biographers are unanimous in declaring 
that what helped, more than anything else, to draw souls 
by her means to holiness, was something peculiarly and 
extraordinarily attractive and impressive in her face: some 
thing which, whilst exceedingly gracious, modest and bright, 
was at the same time inexplicably grand and compelling. 
Now, if we may judge by prints of St Catherine de Ricci 
taken from portraits that are said to be contemporary, her 
face was anything but beautiful, naturally; in fact, if some 
of these pictures are correct, her features were almost ugly 
when in repose. We may hope that such portraits as these 
were not quite faithful to nature; but, in any case, it is clear 
from a certain general resemblance amongst all the 
Italian pictures that there can have been nothing in her 
own personal appearance to account for this extraordinary 
attraction possessed by her mere look: none of that remark 
able, commanding beauty of person, which does undoubt 
edly sometimes even in the case of very holy people 
first help to draw hearts towards them. Hence, we may 
safely conclude that this inexplicable " something " in our 
saint was a purely supernatural endowment; and, looking 
back to that occasion when Christ had been pleased to allow 
His own countenance to appear through hers, it were per 
haps not too bold to suppose that there henceforth lingered 
on her features some remains of that divine light which had 
then so overpowered the beholders. Be this as it may, it is 
certain that there came from her face a power that appeared 
to spring straight from God, so firmly and suddenly did 
it seize hold of hearts and conquer them for Him. " No 
matter," says Razzi, " how corrupt or perverted they might 
be, souls [at sight of her] passed suddenly from the most 



AND HER COMMUNITY 133 

unbridled love of the world to a deep and tender love 
of God." 

One of the earliest instances of this power recorded is 
that of the very sudden conversion of a bishop, who came 
to San Vincenzio to administer confirmation. This man 
was called Giovan-Maria Canigiani, and belonged to a well- 
known Florentine family. He is described as one of those 
miserable specimens of degenerate Religious, common at 
the period, who turned into the cloister as they would into 
a cross-road, as the quickest and most certain way of reach 
ing ecclesiastical preferment. He had first been a Dominican 
friar; then, entering the Order of Vallombrosa, had become 
general; and had finally added to this dignity the title and 
office of bishop. But this was supposed not to be the end 
of his ambition; for public report accused him of having, 
more ardently than justly, coveted the cardinal s hat, and of 
having wasted the property of the Order on trying to obtain 
it. This accusation had been embodied by mischievous 
Italian wit in a caricature, wherein the general was repre 
sented strangling St John Gualbert, founder of his own 
Order. This prelate, then, came to the convent to confirm 
a few young ladies who were brought up there. He was 
brought into Catherine s presence whether in her ecstasy 
or not does not appear and, the moment that he gazed 
on her face, he was touched so hard by God that, having 
to go immediately to the altar to say his Mass, he did 
nothing the whole time he was celebrating but weep and 
deplore his sins, giving every sign of the deepest repen 
tance. The sincerity of this instantaneous conversion, and 
the certainty of his having taken measures to reform and 
repair his former bad life, were proved; for he died not 
very long afterwards, and Catherine had it revealed to her 
that he had saved his soul. 

Two instances of sudden reform, on merely beholding 
Catherine s face accidentally one, of a peasant named 
Baccio, who saw her go by in a procession, and the other 
of a man who attended his blind master on a visit to the 
saint, and caught sight of her through the parlour grille 
may be passed over with simple mention; but we may 



i 3 4 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

give in full the story of a young man, whose name does 
not appear, but the details of whose conversion are in 
teresting. He was brother to two nuns of San Vincenzio, 
and was well known for his dissolute life. He came one 
day to the convent on a visit to his sisters; and they 
hoping that she would say a few words that might influ 
ence him for good sent for Catherine, then sub-prioress, 
to the parlour. She came; and had hardly reached the 
grille than, raising her eyes to the young man s face and 
giving him a piercing look, she was seized with great 
sadness and a deep pity for his soul, by reason of the hor 
rors with which she saw it stained. Then, after standing 
there for a few minutes full of melancholy, she went away 
without uttering a word. The young man s sisters, taken 
by surprise, and quite confused at such an abrupt and al 
most insulting departure, waited a little and then sent to 
ask Mother Catherine to come back. She obeyed the sum 
mons, but only to act again as she had done before: to fix her 
eyes, full of sadness, on the youth s countenance, and in a 
moment or two once more to depart, still in complete 
silence. The two young nuns, more and more astounded 
and ashamed, returned yet again to the charge by sending 
another message to the saint; but this time she sent down 
an excuse that she was ill. Then the young nuns, utterly 
disconcerted and puzzled at her conduct, began assuring 
their brother how unlike this was to the holy sub-prioress s 
usual behaviour, when he himself burst forth with the 
explanation of the mystery. He confessed that, the very 
moment his eyes met those of the saint, he had seen all 
the crimes and abominations of his life all his acts of 
ingratitude to God pass before his vision as though in a 
mirror; and that the sight had so pierced him with sharp 
contrition that he had then and there promised our Lord 
to serve him faithfully for his whole life. When the 
sisters reported this to Mother Catherine, she assured 
them that their brother would henceforth not only be 
a faithful Christian, but that, filled with the Spirit of 
God, he would become the instrument of salvation to 






AND HER COMMUNITY 135 

many souls. Such was the kind of incident that happened 
over and over again throughout Catherine s life. 

There were times when the saint had the gift of 
prophecy for the benefit of her fellows; and one instance is 
specially recorded, at this period, of her having saved the 
son of a lady an intimate friend from the commission 
of a great and disastrous crime, by sending him, through 
his mother, a secret message, which showed that she had 
been supernaturally warned beforehand of his intention. 

It must not be supposed, however, that it was only 
for the conversion of sinners that Catherine s marvellous 
gifts were employed. The just felt her influence, when 
brought into contact with her, as keenly as the wicked; 
and there was one particular effect which the sight of her, 
or a few minutes conversation, is said sometimes to have 
produced, which calls for special notice. This consisted in 
the supernatural engraving, on the mind of the person 
concerned, of a marvellously vivid picture, sometimes of 
her own face and sometimes of the face of our Lord 
Himself on the cross. Whichever it might be, the super 
natural impression had the same effect: that, namely, of so 
strengthening, raising, and enlightening the subject of it 
(who seems to have been able at will to recall and gaze 
upon this interior image, when once impressed) in that the 
things of earth became more and more indifferent and 
contemptible to him, and the depths of his soul remained 
at peace no matter how great the outward stress of trouble or 
temptation. Two people who are specially named as having 
been subjects of this miraculous effect a young Floren 
tine of great literary tastes, and an eminent lawyer re 
nowned for his abilities appear to have had peculiarly 
holy and happy deaths as the final result of it. 

This almost universally converting effect of a visit to 
Mother Catherine at Prato, after her having been placed 
in office, became in time so widely recognized that the very 
strength of popular faith in her powers kept some people 
away from her. It was hardly safe for those whose delibe 
rate attachment to some state of sin or of lukewarmness 



136 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

made them dread a change to visit a person with such 
a dangerous faculty of mastering souls; and it is generally 
supposed that some such motive as this, some fear of being 
compulsorily moved to moral reform, kept the two chief 
personages of Florence, and the nearest neighbours to Prato 
of all the Tuscan princes, away from the saint. Throughout 
the whole time of Catherine s life whilst members of all 
the reigning houses and the rest of the Italian nobility 
continued to resort in crowds to San Vincenzio it was 
remarked that neither Cosmo de Medici, nor his son and 
successor Francesco, ever entered its doors; and it was well 
known that their absence was not caused by unbelief or con 
tempt for the saint, for they both did all they could to show 
their faith and their reverence, constantly sending alms to 
the convent and begging for prayers on all occasions. Only 
they would not trust themselves in her presence. 

But besides this miraculous share in our Lord s re 
deeming power, granted to Catherine as a consequence of 
her share in His Passion, she possessed in high degree 
another and more ordinary faculty for the winning of souls: 
that of the most intense love for them. This love, in her, 
took the form which, indeed, it has taken with more or 
less intensity in many saints of a burning desire to suffer 
herself for the sins of others, and so to expiate them; and 
one of her biographers says that "like another Samuel" 
she incessantly groaned and wept over the sins of mankind, 
entreating the Lord to spare sinners and to let her suffer, 
in body and soul, all the punishments due to them. He 
adds, too, that God heard her, and that she appeared some 
times completely crushed under the weight of the responsi 
bility she had accepted: that she might be seen breathless 
with fatigue, her body bent down, her steps tottering, her 
whole aspect that of one bearing a burden far beyond her 
strength. He tells how, the first time that her guardian, 
Maddalena, met her in this torturing attitude, she naturally 
ran to help her, and anxiously inquired what had caused 
such a state of weakness; and how Catherine answered, with 
a deep sigh: "Mother, it seems as if my Jesus had laid 
the weight of the whole world on my shoulders ! " 



AND HER COMMUNITY 137 

Sometimes the visions that the saint had were so terrible 
as to make her fall fainting and rigid to the ground, where 
her sisters would find her; and then they would learn, on 
her recovery, the cause of her overwhelming grief. 

Another form in which the saint made expiation for 
sin was that of taking upon herself the sufferings due to 
particular individuals, which were inflicted upon her di 
rectly from the hand of God for their redemption. Some 
times such pains were to benefit one of those exceptional 
public sinners, appearing from time to time in the world s 
history, who seem absolutely to require the sacrifice of 
some holy and innocent victim as co-operator in their salva 
tion, to whom our Lord does not choose to give the fruit 
of redemption without the mediation of the saints. On 
other occasions she exercised this special ministry for people 
usually good or even holy, but likely to be overcome by 
some peculiarly strong temptation, as she did for a nun 
in her own community who was tempted on her death-bed 
to utter despair. Or, again, she would purchase by this 
means the conversion of some private friend whose spiri 
tual state she knew to be very bad; as in the case of a certain 
gentleman who was an immense benefactor to the convent, 
and a man of uncommonly generous and upright character, 
but a complete unbeliever. His name is not given, but the 
story of his conversion throws some striking lights on 
Catherine s character. She was extremely grateful to this 
signor for his continuous and liberal help to the community, 
and for the respectful admiration which despite his absence 
of faith he always showed for the nuns, who appear to 
have had no claim at all on his generosity. Like her father, 
St Dominic, "she could not bear to reap temporal advan 
tages without sowing spiritual ones"; and she set herself 
earnestly to win this soul to its Creator, constantly urging 
on her friend the claims of his God and of his own eternal 
destiny. She talked, however, in vain ; he would not listen 
to such language, and always managed to turn the conver 
sation when it took this line, or went brusquely out of the 
parlour. One day, when the saint was pressing him more 
closely than usual, he lost patience so far as to forget cour- 



138 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

tesy, and said, in a haughty tone, that "he knew what he 
was about ! He had no need to learn from a woman s ser 
mons, and her business was to stick to her distaff and 
spin ! " Catherine, miserable over his obstinacy, went 
straight to her cell to pray once more to her divine Spou.se 
for his salvation. No one ever knew from herself what had 
passed in her secret heart on this occasion; but the result 
showed of what nature her prayer must have been. Their 
benefactor fell dangerously ill, suddenly recognized the 
hand that had struck him down, and humbly bowed be 
neath it. Become a Christian at the last moment of life, his 
really grand nature showed itself by the extraordinarily 
fervent acts of faith and love that he made: and the deter 
mined unbeliever died "the death of the saints." When a 
friend brought the detailed account of his last hours to 
Catherine, she said smilingly: " Now he must know whether 
Catherine went to her spinning, or did something else for 
his salvation ! " She, however, was at the same time seized 
with most violent bodily pains, which she had to bear for 
a definite period.* 

This intense love of suffering for others was, as we 
should expect to find, very often carried by the saint 
beyond the region of this world into that of the Church 
suffering. The supernatural visions of purgatory often 
granted to her were as vivid, and sometimes as overpower- 
ingly touching to her heart though in a different way 
as her visions of sin and of the punishment that impeni 
tent sinners would have to suffer. She is said to have been 
often mysteriously conducted through the place of purga 
tion by different saints, but especially by her own guardian 
angel; and to have made, in consequence of what she saw, 
such intensely ardent supplications for the release of those 
she found there, that our Lord could not resist her prayers. 
She learnt also, by these visions, the deep importance in the 
sanctification of a Christian of many things that seemed 
small on earth; and especially did she learn this in the case 
of Religious, by once finding a nun from her own commu 
nity, whose life had been noted for holiness, suffering much 

* Razzi, lib. Ill, cap. viii, p. 182. 



I 



AND HER COMMUNITY 139 

on account of some slight carelessness in administering the 
"temporalities," which had caused diminution in goods 
that should have benefited the poor. Souls that were en 
during very severe punishment, too, were occasionally 
caused to appear to her on earth, revealing what were their 
torments, and urgently begging her help. 

Over and over again, as the result of the knowledge thus 
mysteriously acquired, Catherine prayed to take upon her 
self the penance of others; and she was allowed by this 
means to deliver many both strangers and friends from 
purgatorial pains, either wholly, or after a much shorter 
time than was really due to their sins. God often rewarded 
her love and zeal by sending her revelations of the attain 
ment of heaven by those for whom she had suffered; and, 
amongst others, our Lady once showed her a sister of her 
own whom she had thus delivered. Moreover, holy souls 
who had reached the Beatific Vision by her help were some 
times allowed to come themselves to announce their happi 
ness and to thank her for it. 

And, with all those wonders being worked by her in 
fluence or prayers with the daily increase of visitors to 
the convent on her account what was the attitude of the 
saint during her years as sub-prioress ? It is described as 
only an intensified degree of her former self-doubting hu 
mility : a deeper and deeper conviction of her utter un- 
worthiness to be amongst such holy companions as those 
over whom she had been set. The very concourse of 
strangers to the place, of which she knew so much more 
than she had done in her private capacity, was only a source 
of fear and trouble to her tender conscience. It made her 
fancy herself the cause of disturbance, and perhaps a spiri 
tual injury, to the community by bringing incessant 
distraction into the retired and peaceful atmosphere of 
Religious life ; and she used at times to accuse herself of 
this, covered with confusion as if at some tremendous 
crime. Once, when the sisters found her dissolved in tears, 
on a Friday night just after her ecstasy of the Passion, and 
asked her what was the matter, she declared most earnestly 
that she felt unworthy to wear the habit, and that " if she 



1 40 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

had to be professed again, she was quite sure that they 
would never receive her because of the disorder, bad 
example, and scandals of her life ! " Mother Maddalena, 
standing by, could not help exclaiming: "Sister Catherine! 
are you speaking seriously?" Then the saint, with sobs 
and tears redoubled, solemnly protested in answer: "God 
is my witness that I am! I am quite convinced that if the 
community could have foreseen all my disorderly conduct, 
and all the trouble and scandal that I should cause it, 
I should never have been admitted to profession!" 

One little incident, proving the reality of Catherine s 
self-depreciation, may find appropriate place as conclusion 
to this chapter. A poor woman from the neighbourhood, 
suffering from dropsy, came and knocked at the convent 
door one day. The holy sub-prioress happened to be there, 
and opened the door herself. "I want to speak to the saint" 
said the simple peasant-woman. Catherine fired up in a 
moment, and answered quite sharply: "Who is the saint, 
and who is not? All the sisters here are good, but none of 
them are saints ! The saints are in Paradise." And with 
that she shut the door in the poor woman s face. How 
ever, she meekly made up for her little ebullition; for the 
real portress, Sister Elena Nardi, who had come up 
meanwhile and heard what passed, reproached the saint 
with harshness towards the poor woman, and begged her 
not to send her away hurt. " At least," she begged, " make 
the sign of the cross and give her your blessing." So 
Mother Catherine, accepting the reproach, opened the 
door and called her visitor back. She knew that the poor 
creature wanted to be cured of her dropsy; and, signing 
a cross on her breast, she told her to " trust in God and 
San Vincenzio," and she would pray for her, and she would 
be cured. The woman went straight home, and on arriving 
found herself well, as the saint had promised; whereupon she 
immediately returned to thank her. It is a pleasant ending 
to the story to read that the gratitude of this poor peasant 
did not end in words. From that day forth she remained 
devoted to Catherine, and came constantly to see her and 
to bring presents of the very best fruit in season, which 
the saint on her side accepted in all grateful simplicity. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 141 



CHAPTER XII 

Work as sub-prioress within the community She is named prioress (1552) 
Death of her uncle, Fra Timoteo St Catherine s spiritual teaching 
and conferences in chapter She is delivered, at her own prayer, 
from the outward manifestations of her ecstasy of the Passion (15 54) 

WHILST CATHERINE was doing her best to persuade her com 
panions that she was unfit to hold even the last place in the 
community, Providence was so ordering things that she 
might before long hold the first. This was what Mother 
Raffaella had had in view when she begged God for " a 
great saint" for the convent: she had looked not only to 
the individual, unobtrusive influence that such a one 
would exercise, but to the generous impulse towards 
greatness of combined action that is imparted to a com 
munity by saints; and for the bringing about of this 
end she knew that it would be necessary for the saint she 
desired to govern the house as prioress. 

God seemed to have been preparing Catherine de 
Ricci long beforehand for this important rble^ especially by 
the feelings with which He had inspired her for her 
sisters in religion. From the time of her first entry into 
San Vincenzio, her love for them all had been so great 
that she absolutely identified her own interests with theirs, 
especially in all matters of spiritual advancement; and she 
prayed as fervently and incessantly for all, and tried to 
make herself as completely whatever each one desired, as 
though she already had the charge of their souls. To this 
really maternal zeal and tenderness for her sisters she had 
long joined a correctness of judgement, a wisdom in dis 
cernment of spiritual things, and a prudence, gentleness, 
and moderation that were quite marvellous at her age; 
and all these qualities of course became more conspicuous 
now that they had fuller play as she filled the office of 
sub-prioress. 

During the years that she occupied this post she gave, 



i 4 2 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

as we have seen, much time each day to her apostolate for 
souls outside the community; but this did not prevent 
her keeping sufficient liberty to attend to the internal 
duties and responsibilities involved in her office, and God 
Himself helped her in this by so changing the times and 
seasons of His special visitations that they should not 
interfere with her public community duties, as they had 
hitherto often done. It will be remembered how, in the 
early days of her convent life, Sister Catherine s "slumbers" 
had caused her to be left to herself, and exempted her 
from many of the religious exercises practised in common. 
From the time when her great ecstasy of the Passion 
began, in the year 1542, this need for excusing her from 
assisting on certain occasions in the daily community 
functions both secular and religious had increased 
rather than diminished. She was often seized by raptures 
so suddenly especially at times of holy Communion, at 
the evening Safoe, and in the Refectory when others were 
eating and she was trying to conceal her own fasting 
that her ecstatic states were a cause of distraction or dis 
turbance; and her superiors had consequently withdrawn 
her from public appearance on these occasions. Now, 
however, that she was officially bound, as sub-prioress, to 
give an example of strict monastic regularity, all out 
ward manifestations of her supernatural states which could 
in any way hinder this duty ceased. She was able to have 
meals with the community and take part in the Salve; 
and, though still at times ravished into ecstasy on re 
ceiving her Lord in the Holy Eucharist, it was only in 
such a manner as to attract no special attention and to 
cause no disorder in the choir. 

Besides practising this perfect exactness in outward 
duties, Catherine also let no calls on her attention from 
seculars hinder her from finding time for the personal 
demands made upon her by the sisters. The latter, despite 
her youth, now came constantly to her for advice: either to 
get difficulties and doubts cleared up or to obtain greater 
lights on matters of the interior life. All who consulted 
her were enchanted to find how, under every circumstance 



AND HER COMMUNITY 143 

and upon all questions proposed to her, she was able to 
pronounce decisions and to give answers of such high 
wisdom that they could not doubt her being habitually 
taught by the Holy Spirit, and inspired with particular 
lights for the direction of souls. In short, she managed so 
to fill this subordinate office as to satisfy every one, and to 
produce in her community the triple effect of great peace in 
all souls, perfect union of heart and mind, and a strongly 
pronounced movement towards greater religious perfection.* 
In addition to this general influence, however, there 
was a special one that Catherine had to exercise, in a de 
partment of convent life relegated to the sub-prioress as her 
particular work. At San Vincenzio as in most large com 
munities of that period the nuns were separated into four 
distinct divisions, each of which had its own individual 
superior. These divisions consisted respectively of the no 
vices proper; the "young professed" ; the more mature, or 
"middle" professed ; and the "ancients," referred to before. 
The prioress was ex-officio, head of the ancients, and mother 
to the "middle professed" nuns; the novices were of course 
under the regular mistress; whilst the sub-prioress was 
placed over the "young professed," or junior nuns. To St 
Catherine, therefore, fell the specially delicate and impor 
tant task of training and guiding hearts and souls at just the 
most difficult crisis in Religious life: at the moment of 
transition from the absolute and complete dependence of 
the novitiate to the comparative liberty, and greater soli 
tude of soul, that belong to the professed nun. Hers it was 
to teach these young sisters as they left their novice- 
mistress, to walk firmly on their feet, so to speak, in the 
way of Religious perfection, in which they had hitherto 
been led and supported by another s hand. St Francis de 
Sales speaks of this office as that of "flying before the 
young doves, as they leave their mother s nest, to teach 
them to use their wings" ; it is clear to any one who thinks 
of it, how much watchfulness, holy tact, and tender care 
are needed in such a position to rouse the timid, strengthen 
the weak, and restrain the rash. So difficult is the task that, 

* Sandrini, lib. I, cap. xxviii, xxxviii. 



144 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



pursued even with the most zealous devotion, it not 
unfrequently issues in more or less of failure; and many 
a fervent novice, promising excellently, has become the 
permanent slave of lukewarmness after profession. 

Catherine, whilst sub-prioress, was found so extraor 
dinarily successful in accomplishing this work of training, 
that the nuns could never remember to have seen so few 
failings among the juniors. They seemed, under her gui 
dance, able to keep all the fervour of their noviceship while 
they gained the self-possession, and the power of initiative, 
necessary for solid progress: imbibing from their saintly 
"mother" some of her own spiritual ardour, together with 
her remarkable modesty and gentleness. A letter addressed 
by her to these "young professed," during one of her terms 
of office as sub-prioress,^ giving a picture both of her mode 
of dealing with them and of the interior life of the convent, 
is well worth reading; and though it was written rather 
later than the time we are just dealing with, its subject 
makes this the most appropriate place to insert it : 

To the Young Nuns of the Monastery of San Vincenzio 

"The reason of my present letter is, that having been 
requested by you to say something on the occasion of your 
feast of St Catherine,t I reply as follows : It is not usual 
for the sub-prioress to come forward, but to leave all in the 
hands of the superior. But I am not able to refrain, on 
account of my love for you (considering that you are all 
my daughters), from satisfying your desire, with the same 
charity that has been shown to me by all in the convent. 

* The dates of St Catherine s various elections which from the year 1547 onwards, 
became frequent events to the offices of sub-prioress and prioress respectively, are a 
little confusing, as there appears sometimes to be a slight discrepancy between dates 
given in the narrative and those of the letters. For instance, P. Bayonne gives 1552 
as the date of her first election as prioress; whereas there are letters dated 1554 in which 
she signs, or speaks of, herself as sub-prioress. This may, of course, merely mean that she 
was prioress for two years only the first time; but no definite explanation is given of 
any such apparent discrepancies. The best thing, therefore, for the reader to do as re 
gards this point which is, after all, not of much consequence is to recollect simply 
that for about forty years from the time of her being first made sub-prioress she was kept 
almost constantly in office as either prioress or "sub." The elections (it may be observed 
for the benefit of readers not aware of this) had to be constantly repeated, because an elec 
tion to life-long office such, for instance, as that of a " consecrated " Benedictine abbot or 
abbess is not allowed in the order. 

f St Catherine of Alexandria, martyr, special patroness of the young nuns. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 145 

Therefore I send you with this a golden scudo. I am sorry 
I cannot give you more; but you must excuse me and 
accept my good will towards you. The superior will arrange 
all to your satisfaction; do not fear. 

I exhort and pray you, my dear daughters, to imitate 
our glorious saint, and to practise virtue if you would be 
pleasing to Jesus, as she pleased Him, if not with the same 
degree of perfection, at least as much as your frailty allows. 
Remember that she was a woman, and young like your 
selves; yet she did not excuse herself, and you are spouses 
of the same holy Spouse as she was. And if you would 
exercise yourselves in all the virtues, as she did, your 
Spouse will not fail to give you the graces and favours 
given to her. Be reverent and obedient to your superiors 
as she was. For, out of reverence and obedience to her 
mother she went to speak to that holy hermit, whom she 
believed and obeyed in all simplicity; she did not say, 
" These things which he has told me are childish, that I am 
to pray to such an image and I shall see the Spouse of 
whom he has spoken." And by her obedience and faith she 
merited to see Jesus. Likewise you, my daughters, give 
yourselves to holy obedience, and often frequent confession 
and holy Communion, if you wish to see Jesus; because 
no one can love or see Jesus better than by uniting oneself 
with Him in holy Communion. In short, we come to know 
His goodness and mercy, and our own vileness and misery; 
as did that saint, who in prayer was illuminated with truth, 
knew her own errors, and quickly departed from them, and 
followed with great fervour Jesus her Spouse. And you, my 
daughters, have been called by your Spouse to holy Reli 
gion, so that you may follow His footsteps, and the example 
of His holy Mother and the saints; fly, therefore, ever 
occasion of offending your Spouse, as did our saint. And 
as she had great zeal for the honour of her Spouse, and a 
desire to suffer for love of Him, so do you show zeal in 
the observance of our holy rule, first for yourselves and then 
for your neighbours; and desire to suffer for love of Him, 
and to render something to Him for what He has done for 
you, so far as is possible to your frailty. If you love your 

10 



146 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

Spouse with all your heart, as did our glorious saint, you 
will not weary of obeying your superiors, but will do it in 
all simplicity. And I am glad when you have confidence 
in them, as I told you the other day; and I would on no 
account that you should be wanting in reverence and 
obedience towards them, for you would thereby displease 
Jesus your Spouse, and would lose many graces and spiri 
tual favours. 

" My dear daughters, give yourselves joyfully to Jesus, 
as He willingly gave Himself wholly to you, and as did 
our glorious saint, who did not think it hard to go to 

t> CD 

martyrdom for love of Him. And do you joyfully and 
willingly bear the fatigues and observances of holy Religion, 
which are wearying to our senses, and are a kind of martyr 
dom; but to one who loves Jesus with his whole heart, 
everything is sweet and pleasant, as He said : " My yoke is 
sweet and My burden is light." Therefore, my daughters, 
follow cheerfully your Spouse in the way of Religious life, 
and do not be discouraged if you find you are not all you 
would wish to be, but humbly ask pardon of Jesus with a firm 
resolve to correct yourselves; and have recourse to Him 
with great faith and hope, because He is your Father 
and your Spouse and is consumed, so to say, with the 
desire to bestow graces on you. But He wishes to be en 
treated; therefore go to Him with great confidence and 
doubt not that you will be heard, and take your saint as 
your mediator, to pray to your and her Spouse for the 
grace you desire. I beg you also to include me in your 
petitions, that Jesus may do to me as is pleasing to His 
Majesty. And I will continue, just as I am, to pray for all 
of you who are or have been my dear children; and I offer 
you all to Jesus, that He may make you His true spouses 
and fill you with His holy love. I have dictated all this to 
my secretary, for I am not able to write with my own 
hand, on account of the pain you know it gives me to 
write. May God bless you all. 

"Your Mother in Christ, 

" SISTER CATHERINE DE RICCI." 



AND HER COMMUNITY 147 

But it was not only to her spiritual children at San 
Vincenzio that the saint gave instructions on the Religious 
life. She had correspondence on the subject with members 
of other communities, both men and women; and the two 
following letters given as good specimens of her style of 
writing and her tone of thought belong without any 
doubt to this period of her first sub-prioress-ship. 

The first is to one of two brothers, sons of a Bernardino 
Rucellai, both members of the Dominican house at Fiesole. 
To this house Fra Timoteo de Ricci, Catherine s uncle, 
was sent as prior in 1 547, which will account for the refe 
rence in the letter. We are told nothing about these two 
young men very probably friends of Catherine s family 
except the fact of their being at the Priory of Fiesole. 

To Fra Damiano Rucellai, a novice at San Domenico of 

Fiesole 

"Dear Son in Jesus Christ (&C.), I have your most 
welcome letter, to which I will make a brief reply. Firstly, 
I am glad to see you desirous of good, and fervent in 
seeking Jesus, who is the beloved of all good Christians, 
but still more so of Religious who give themselves wholly 
to Him, forsaking themselves, especially their own will, 
placing it in God s hands and in those of His prelate. 
Then again, not caring anything for the body, how it is 
provided for, but offering it a sacrifice to Jesus, who in 
His goodness will not fail to accept it, and in exchange 
for it will give Himself, who is the only good in heaven 
or on earth. The blessed are satisfied with gazing on the 
divine Majesty, and with continually thanking and praising 
His infinite goodness, who is always giving new joys and 
happiness, in heaven to the saints and on earth to the just, 
for this offering of soul and body which they have made. 
Now who would not willingly give to receive so much ? 
So that, my dear son in Jesus, give yourself wholly to 
Him, soul, body, and will, and He will give Himself to 
you, as to a dear son. Imitate Him, then, in holy humility; 
as you may contemplate Him in the approaching solemnity 
of His holy Nativity, which shows forth His sacred humi- 



148 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

lity. For He is the highest wisdom and of incomprehensible 
greatness, and yet of His goodness has deigned to come in 
such lowliness! Born in a stable, in the company of two 
lowest animals, without any provision for His wants; but 
with greatest humility He remained there with His gentle 
Mother. Therefore, little son of Jesus, go this night and 
day and visit that sweet Infant, praying His holy Mother 
to give Him to you for a little space. And she will be 
gracious to you and will not deny you; but you must be 
humble, or you will not see Him. And when you have 
Him, commend to Him my soul, and I will do the same 
for you. Commend me to your father superior, and many 
times to his prayers, and the same to our uncle the prior, 
and to all your companion novices. I hold you as my son 
in Christ, and am happy to accept you as such. So be of 
good will, and be as good as possible. Assai^ assai. I desire 
nothing else, except to commend myself to you. And may 
the sweet infant Jesus be with you. 

" Yours, &c. 
""December 16, 1548." 

The second is simply headed 

To a Nun 

" Very dear daughter, I have already sent you a letter 
to exhort you to the service of our Lord; and now I send 
you this one, in which I am going to give first for myself, 
and then for you an account of the true way of faithfully 
serving our Divine Spouse, and a resume of the spiritual 
life; so that, by following it, we shall carry out the holy 
will of God. If, then, my daughter, you would be the true 
spouses of Jesus, you must do His holy will in all things; 
and you will do this if you entirely give up your own will 
on every occasion, and if you love the divine Spouse with 
your whole heart, your whole soul, and your whole strength. 
Then, you must carefully attend to the following points 
(but it is necessary to weigh all these words), as they con 
tain the summary of Christian perfection: 

" i. We must force ourselves to detach the heart and 



AND HER COMMUNITY 149 

the will from all earthly love; to love no fleeting things, 
except for the love of God; and, above all, not to love God 
for our own sakes for self-interest, but with a love as pure 
as His own goodness. 

" 2. We must direct all our thoughts, words and actions 
to His honour; and by prayer, counsel, and good example 
seek His glory solely, whether for ourselves or for others, 
so that through our means all may love and honour God. 
This second thing is more pleasing to Him than the first, 
as it better fulfils His will. 

"3. We must aim more and more at the accomplish 
ment of the divine will: not only desiring nothing special 
to happen to us, bad or even good, in this wretched life, 
and thus keeping ourselves always at God s disposal, with 
heart and soul at peace; but also believing with a firm faith 
that Almighty God loves us more than we love ourselves, 
and takes more care of us than we could take of ourselves. 

" The more we conform to this way of acting, the more 
we shall find God present to help us, and the more we shall 
experience His most gentle love. But no one can reach such 
perfection except by constant and courageous sacrifice of 
self-will; and, if we would learn to practise such abnega 
tion, it is necessary to keep ourselves in a state of great 
and deep humility, so that by perfect knowledge of our 
own misery and weakness we may rise to learn the greatness 
and beauty of our God. Consider how just and necessary 
it is to serve Him unceasingly, with love and obedience. 
I say just, because God being Father and Master of all things, 
it is just that His son and servant should obey and love 
Him: I say necessary, because by acting otherwise we could 
not be saved. Let us always remember, never doubting, 
that it is the eternal, sovereign, all-powerful God who does, 
orders, or allows everything that happens, and that nothing 
comes to pass without His divine will. Let us remember 
that He is Himself that wisdom which, in the government 
of the universe of heaven, earth, and every single creature 
cannot be deceived (He would be neither God nor most 
wise, if it were otherwise). Let us look upon Him as 
supremely good, loving and beneficent. If, through His 



1 50 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

mercy, this conviction becomes strongly impressed upon 
our wills, we shall easily take all things from His sacred 
hand with well-contented hearts, always thanking Him for 
fulfilling His most holy will in us; because, by acting thus 
(with the help of His holy grace) we shall unite ourselves 
to Him by true love in this life and by glory in eternity. 
May He grant it to us in His goodness! Of your charity 
pray for me, a wretched sinner, who commends herself to 
you all. 

" Your sister in Christ. 
"November 18, 1549." 

Such were the burning words of love for Jesus Christ 
and for souls, and such the truly angelic tone of thought, 
in which Catherine addressed young hearts consecrated to 
God. It is not to be wondered at that, when they had for 
some time watched the results of her first tenure of office 
in the community, and when they considered all that she 
had done, both inside and outside the convent, for the good 
of souls even before this, the nuns resolved to entrust her 
with full government on the first occasion that should arise. 
An opportunity for her election came in 1552, just ten 
years after the beginning of her miraculous ecstasies; and 
she was then unanimously chosen prioress, to the delight 
of all her fervent and zealous sisters. 

We are told that the only sad heart in the community 
that day was Catherine s own. She felt struck down, as with 
a sudden blow, by this election. She found it impossible to 
believe that she, whose one desire in life was for ever to 
serve her dearly-beloved sisters in the humblest and most 
laborious capacity, could be of the least use to them in the 
one to which they had appointed her; and she was seized 
with a fear of being unfit to take spiritual charge of the 
simplest soul in the house. She poured forth her soul, with 
tears and sobs, in complaints to her divine Spouse; she 
remonstrated with her companions about the mistake they 
had made; she complained to the superiors of the Order, 
and tried to convince them of her incapacity and of the 
harm she should do in the convent: she made, in short, 







THE NUNS CHOIR AT SAN VINCENZIO. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 151 

the genuinely humble protests of a saint in the face of 
a dreaded honour. But such protests were not accepted. 
Catherine s election was confirmed; and the superiors of 
the Order formally intimated to her that she was to sub 
mit to the change imposed. She then obeyed; and the very 
humility that had made her fear the responsibility now came 
to help her in heartily accepting it. In both her unwilling 
ness and her acceptance she was completely in accord with 
the doctrine of saints concerning perfect Religious obedi 
ence. This doctrine teaches, on the one hand, that there is 
as much pride in refusing any honour or dignity imposed 
by God, as there is in ambitiously desiring such when His 
voice either opposes or simply does not call to it; and, on 
the other hand, that whilst obscure, humiliating, or difficult 
posts in Religion are to be invariably accepted with readi 
ness and joy, and even to be desired, the case is quite 
otherwise with posts that give prestige or honour of any 
sort. Where these are concerned, it is held that a certain 
repugnance and instinctive aversion to the consideration 
and homage that belong to such offices are not only legiti 
mate but desirable, even while responsibility is accepted 
with hearty good-will under obedience.* 

Without this repugnance, there could be neither dis 
interestedness nor humility; and hence it is that one of the 
most salient characteristics of the saints, when occupying 
honourable posts, is a certain melancholy spirit that sad 
ness of the true " pilgrim and stranger " on earth which 
they keep so long as they are condemned to such positions. 
St Catherine, throughout the whole forty years during which 
she was kept in office as either prioress or sub-prioress, 
experienced this holy sadness in a high degree; never feel 
ing the least complacency in her dignity, nor taking the 
slightest repose from the incessant labours that it brought 
with it. At each re-election, up to the one just before her 
death, she went through the same anguish of soul that had 
seized upon her the first time. When some of the nuns 
were once so imprudent as to congratulate themselves in 

* To desire superiority for the cares of office, other things being equal, is praiseworthy; 
to desire it for its high position is criminal ambition; to desire it for the consideration it 
brings is disgraceful egotism " (St Thomas Aquinas, in cap. xiii, Ad Rmia). 



1 52 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

her presence on having voted for her, she spoke in a way 
that made them repent. "Sisters," she said, in a deeply 
sad tone, " if I had the choice, I would rather spend the 
two years of prioress-ship imposed upon me in a narrow, 
dark prison than in fulfilling its duties " words which, as 
her pious historian adds, are well worth meditation by any 
inclined to forget the humility of their profession and to 
long for cloistral honours.* 

Catherine, then, had entered upon her office as prioress 
in the early months of the year 1 552. She was barely installed 
when she heard of the death of her uncle, the venerable Fra 
Timoteo de Ricci, at Perugia. This man held a very large 
place in her heart, little given as it was to clinging to earthly 
affections; for in him she had found, when she left her 
parents home, the tie of blood, the likeness to her own 
father, and the warmth of heart, which formed a natural bond 
in addition to the triple spiritual fatherhood that he came 
to exercise over her as man of God, priest of Jesus Christ, 
and first guide of her soul. He it was who had been, so to 
speak, her sponsor in the Religious life ; and who had after 
wards received all the confidences about her great spiritual 
favours, and witnessed her extraordinary states. He had been 
moreover, to her, what he was to every one in the convent 
the devout and austere friar, formed in the school of 
Savonarola at Florence the friar who, for more than twenty 
years, had kept alive his Master s spirit in the Convent of 
San Vincenzio, which was the honour of Tuscany and the 
consolation of the Church. Of most generous nature, Timo 
teo de Ricci was a man who won pardon for his defects of 
character by his frank acknowledgement of them and his 
speedy reparation. If as was sometimes the case he hap 
pened to wound people s feelings by the sharpness of his 
zeal, he quickly regained their sympathy by the deep humi 
lity of his repentance. If, by misunderstanding for a time 
his niece s heavenly gifts, he had bitterly grieved her heart, 
he had afterwards still more bitterly lamented what he came 
to look upon as one of the gravest faults, and the greatest 
misfortune, of his life. For many years he had been humbly 

* Ra/.zi, lib. Ill, cap. iv, p. 108. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 153 

begging pardon of God for having offended Him in the 
person of His spouse, Catherine; and he could only console 
himself at all by actually becoming her disciple and spiri 
tual son. As a man of more than sixty years old, we find him 
receiving, in the most docile spirit, even public lessons and 
corrections from her whose master he had been ; and two 
touching instances of his submission, recorded by Razzi, 
may here be quoted as proofs both of what his natural cha 
racter was and of the generous depths of humility to which 
repentance for his faults led him. 

The first is assigned to April, 1 542, on one day of which 
Catherine, coming forth from ecstasy, obtained an interview 
with her uncle. She then advised him to put more gentleness 
into the reproofs that he administered to the nuns, so as to 
fulfil our Lord s injunction: "Learn of Me, for I am meek 
and humble of heart." Fra Timoteo, having asked her how 
she knew (she, of course, never being subject to them) that 
his reproofs were too severe, as neither he nor the sisters had 
ever spoken to her of the matter: " Ah! " she replied at once,, 
"and do you think that my Jesus draws me up above into 
His presence without clearly showing me everything that 
concerns the interests of my dear sisters? Don t deceive your 
self: His goodness leaves me ignorant of nothing that has ta 
do with my monastery." Then the good father promised 
to keep her instructions in mind, and to do his best to 
profit by them ; and he further begged her to remember 
him in presence of her divine Spouse in her next ecstasy of 
the Passion, and to offer his heart to our Lord for him. "1 
will most willingly offer it," said the saint, "but you will take 
it back again almost directly, will you not?" Such marvel 
lously frank language on the part of his meek and holy niece 
to her revered uncle and spiritual father shows indeed what 
clear knowledge she must have had of his extremely hasty 
temperament; and the doubt she here expressed of the im 
mediate efficacy of her warning is justified by the second 
incident we are to quote. 

This happened a year afterwards, in April, 1 543, on the 
eve of St Vincent Ferrer s feast. The saint being rapt inta 
ecstasy in the church, in presence of her uncle and the united 



54 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



sisters, it was observed that one of her hands was outside her 
scapular. 

Now, beholding the sacred stigma on this hand, the nuns 
seized with tender devotion for the blessed wound 
pressed forward, by a sudden spontaneous impulse, almost 
all together, to kiss it. Naturally, such an impetuous move 
ment of a large number could not take place without causing 
confusion; and Fra Timoteo, seeing the disorder, and not 
stopping to reflect on the good-will that had caused it, gave 
way to his natural hastiness and began to reprimand the sisters 
severely and even intemperately. But when, in his own turn, 
he followed the nuns with the intention of devoutly kissing 
the sacred wound, the saint notwithstanding her state of 
rapture withdrew her hand and hid it under her scapular. 
Then the good friar remembered all her warnings about his 
harshness and hasty temper ; and, going aside into a quiet 
corner, fell on his knees and wept so bitterly over his fault 
that his tender-hearted niece took pity on him, and offered 
him the hand she had withdrawn.* 

This deep humility of Timoteo de Ricci, however, in 
nowise lessened his real grandeur and nobility of soul. His 
fine character showed him truly akin to his niece in the super 
natural as well as the natural order; and it was his delight to 
follow her to the sublimest heights of contemplation and re 
flection on the mysteries of God, and to pour forth his heart 
like her in ardent love. It was in this spiritual relationship of 
their souls that he most sharply felt the blow of separation, 
when, in 1547, he was sent to be prior at Fiesole; and he 
proved his regret by taking every possible opportunity of 
visiting Prato to refresh himself by spiritual conversations 
with Catherine. He is last heard of there in 1548, at the 
saint s feet, drinking in consolation from her heavenly words. 
Four years after this Fra Timoteo was prior of St Dominic s 
House at Perugia, when on the feast of St Peter, martyr 
Catherine was transported in spirit to his death-bed. 
Whether she actually appeared to the dying man, as she did 
to some people in the course of her life, or only supported 
him by the power of her prayers, at any rate she had the com 
fort of helping him in his last moments. 

* Seraf. Razzi, lib. II, cap. x, pp. 72-73. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 155 

That same evening she assembled the sisters in chapter, 
to announce to them the decease of her uncle, "who had 
just died in the Priory of Perugia." In doing so, she freely 
poured forth her tender gratitude for all that he had done 
for her, and for the great services he had bestowed on their 
convent ; and, after earnestly recommending his soul to 
their prayers, ordered the suffrages of the community for 
him to continue for several days. The nuns, surprised at these 
communications, for which they were quite unprepared, care 
fully noted down the day and hour when they were made. 
Some days afterwards, when the official news of the Father s 
death arrived from Perusia, they were able to testify that 
the moment at which their young prioress had called them to 
chapter was the very same at which her uncle had breathed 
his last. 

On the 1 5th of the following May, Catherine fulfilled 
the office of prioress towards another member of her family, 
on a happier occasion. She gave the habit to her youngest 
half-sister, in presence of Fra Angelo da Diacceto, the girl s 
maternal uncle. Of the saint s four half-sisters who were nuns 
with her at San Vincenzio, this one Lessandra was the 
only one to receive the habit from her hands, with the name 
of Sister Lodovica. The three others had been clothed in her 
presence, but before she was prioress: the first, as we have 
already seen, in 154^, taking the name of Maria Benigna; 
the second Marietta in 1 547, as Maria Clemente ; and the 
third Maddalena as Filippa. All these young sisters of 
the saint, with one exception, were fragile, delicate creatures, 
destined not to finish their career on earth : called to the 
cloister only, as it seemed, that they might die ignorant of 
the world s evil. Filippa, Maria Clemente, and Lodovica, 
fell victims to the same fatal disease consumption one 
after the other, and all between the ages of sixteen and eigh 
teen. By the year 1555, their holy sister had seen their three 
souls gently depart, herself receiving the last breath of each, 
and, it is said, accompanying the liberated spirits to heaven 
whilst she was in ecstasy. The convent chroniclers sum up 
the sweet, peaceful lives of all these three young nuns in the 
same words: "Euona e quieta sorora! Sister Maria Benigna, 



156 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

the first to join Catherine at San Vincenzio, was the last 
whose eyes she closed, under circumstances to be mentioned 
later. 

As prioress, Catherine naturally became the light and the 
counsellor of all the sisters in everything concerning the final 
end of life in the cloister that is, Religious perfection. 
Though she was barely thirty years old, the oldest as well as 
the youngest came and opened their hearts to her, as to a 
mother, giving her their confidence fully and lovingly, as 
her high sanctity inspired them to do. They well knew that 
the "science of perfection" belongs less to the head than to 
the heart, and that a holy soul who practises its generous 
maxims understands its deepest mysteries better than a 
learned man who has merely studied its principles intel 
lectually. They felt, in short, what St Thomas explicitly 
teaches: that love surpasses knowledge, and is more perfect 
than intellect; for we love more than we know; love entering 
into man, while knowledge remains outside.* 

Something of Catherine s manner of instructing her nuns 
may be seen in a little collection of her "Maxims" made 
by her nuns. All show, like the letters given above, how 
entirely her doctrine of Christian perfection was based on 
the one great principle: God is: the creature is not. These 
maxims are culled from such of her sayings to individual 
sisters as were preserved by them, after having gone to her 
for advice on various points, and are most practical; but the 
form of teaching in which the saint specially shone was in 
that of "conferences," or addresses, which she gave to her 
daughters in chapter on the eves of great feasts. She is 
described, on these occasions, as appearing at first shy and 
confused, as if ashamed of what she had to do; for nothing 
was so painful to her as speaking in public, being persuaded 
of her own ignorance and incapacity. Then, she would in 
wardly submit to the Will of God, and begin her exhorta 
tion. After a few words, spoken with her natural grace and 
simplicity, to introduce her subject, suddenly she would 
be rapt into ecstasy; and from that moment voice and words 
were purely supernatural. She spoke in the name of Jesus 

* D. Thomas, in 4, dist. xlix, 9, i ; n. e;c Hug., a. S. Viet, in 7, De Celest. Hierarch. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 157 

Christ Himself; or else in that of the Blessed Virgin or 
some other saint; and as in the case, already described, of 
her great ecstasy her language and voice took so com 
pletely the tone and accent of those whom she was repre 
senting, that the sisters, marvelling, seemed to hear the 
very persons themselves speaking. The effect on their souls 
may be imagined. 

But, whilst thus winning admiration and confidence 
from all around her, Catherine herself, in these first years of 
her authority, was greatly troubled. The constant stir and 
tumult, in and around the convent, produced by the con 
course of people ever increasing drawn thither by the 
fame of her ecstasy of the Passion, filled her with holy sad 
ness. It was not, now, her personal humility only that was 
alarmed : her conscience as prioress was roused by a dread 
that all this external agitation and excitement might end in 
seriously compromising the interior peace of the community. 
She saw that amongst her nuns minds and souls were being 
disturbed, and that silence and recollection were no longer 
protecting, as they should, the spirit of prayer. If, even as a 
private Religious, she had formerly taken fright at the pil 
grimages to Prato on her account, how far keener was her 
anxiety now that they bid fair to become a real disorder, and 
that all the responsibility for them rested on her own shoul 
ders, as prioress! Her distress was deep, and she incessantly 
mourned and sighed over it. before God. Even amid her 
ecstasies she was heard complaining of her trouble: " O my 
Jesus! " she would cry, " deliver me from all this renown 
from all these outward appearances that Thou hast given to 
the heavenly favours Thou bestowest on me! Let my poor 
convent get back a little of its hiddenness and quiet! " Then, 
thinking her own prayers not worthy to be heard, she at last 
begged her nuns, with tears, to come to her help with their 
merits and fervour, so as to supply her deficiences in the 
sight of God. 

Moved by her trouble, and also by the real inconveni 
ences that caused them, her superiors the prior of St 
Dominic s and the convent confessor ordered the sisters to 
fulfil Catherine s desire by sending up fervent prayers to God 



i 5 8 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



until He deigned to hear them. From the day of this order, 
for several months, that holy community perseveringly 
raised supplicating arms to heaven that they might be de 
livered, as though from a public calamity, from the marvel 
lous ecstasy which was in truth the honour of Catherine, the 
salvation of many souls, the light of faith to Italy, the admi 
ration of the world. Surely no holier or purer prayers ever 
mounted to the throne of God, for never can there have 
been more humble or disinterested ones; and they were at 
last answered, for Jesus Christ was pleased to veil His own 
glory and that of His spouse, in order to deliver the virgins 
consecrated to Him from the crowds that invaded their 
dwelling-place, and to grant them once more the solitude and 
peace wherein they had lived with Him in old days. 

In the year 1554 all external signs of Catherine s ecstasy 
of the Passion disappeared, though its substance remained 
in the form of her close and tender inward union with her 
Beloved. The worship of Jesus crucified remained the wor 
ship par excellence of her life, and was her special object of 
contemplation every Thursday and Friday; but the drama 
itself the living scenes reproduced by her ecstasy, which 
had so revived the faith of others had done their work, and 
never reappeared. People continued coming to Catherine, 
as to an inexhaustible source of grace, light, and consolation: 
she never ceased to be a means of edification and a mirror 
of holiness to individual souls, but was no longer a sight for 
crowds or a hindrance to the peace and quiet of her convent: 
and the peace was needed, to leave her free for the cares of 
government that she was to support for so many years. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 159 



CHAPTER XIII 

St Catherine s internal government of her community Her character as 
prioress Her standard of Religious life 

A MONASTERY or convent is a small state, which attains its 
true end only through the wisdom of whoever presides over 
and guides its course. Let the laws and constitutions of a 
nation be even ideally beautiful and high-minded, their suc 
cess must depend on the perfection of their practical working ; 
and we all know that the attainment of this perfection lies 
in the hands of those placed at the helm. The pagan held 
that divinity was concerned in the making of laws only; but 
the Christian knows that God s intervention and help are 
just as necessary in their application, and that the statesman 
who would rule aright must daily bend the knee before his 
Maker and ask Him, with Solomon, for the gift of that same 
wisdom that presides over the counsels of the Most High 
"to stay with him and work with him."* 

What is true of a state is still truer of a Religious com 
munity. Though the people forming the latter are trans 
formed by a special grace not given to all men, they are none 
the less human; and as the laws under which they live aim at 
nothing less than at guiding them to advancement in the 
superhuman ways of evangelical perfection, it is not to be 
wondered at if opposition to such laws is found to be as strong 
and as persistent in their hearts as in those of other men and 
women. Hence it is that, if saints are needed to found 
Religious orders, they are also needed for governing them. 
Souls are required for this work to whom God might say, 
as He did to Josue, "I will be with thee as I was with 
Moses" ; souls at once brave, tender and utterly devoted; 
knowing how to draw the sword for the good of their sub 
jects with one hand, and with the other to shield them 

* Mitte illam de ccelis sanctis tuis . . . . ut mecum sit et mecum laboret" (Sap. 
cap. ix, 10. 



160 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

against their enemies especially against themselves and 
so to secure their entrance into the promised land. 

The sisters of San Vincenzio of Prato were happy 
enough to be thus governed; and if it is true that commu 
nities like peoples always get the kind of government 
they deserve, nothing could be more to their honour than 
to have deserved that of Catherine de Ricci for more than 
forty years. 

The fundamental condition of rightly governing a con 
vent is for the superior to realize in her own person the 
ultimate end of its government, which is simply the perfec 
tion of Religious life. Besides the fact that she cannot 
bestow what she does not possess, it would be both unbe 
coming and rash for her to have the honour of headship in 
her community without also having the merits and virtues 
of the position. Moreover, ordinary virtues will not suffice 
her. She must have eminent and extraordinary ones, corres 
ponding to her dignity; for human nature will never keep 
itself at even a moderately high level, unless a constant im 
pulse is given to it by the sight of a standard of generously 
high perfection set by its rulers. A holy writer, Pere Dupont, 
S.J., has said that a well-ordered Religious house ought to 
be like the statue of Nabuchodonosor with the head of gold, 
even though the rest of the body be made of commoner 
material. 

This was what St Catherine felt so profoundly when 
the unanimous voice of her sisters called her to be their 
prioress; and this feeling it was which caused her that ever- 
recurring distress, already referred to, at each re-election to 
office. However, she unhesitatingly took up the burden of 
the highest perfection in every requirement of rule and con 
stitutions; and she so lived that one might have believed 
that she incessantly heard echoing in her ears that saying 
of the canon law: "The rule thou hast given to others, 
take for yourself"* so faithful was she to that principle. 
She would have been ashamed of her title of prioress, had 
she not been always and everywhere first in exactness and 
fervour. Hence she was never seen deliberately to fail in the 

* In Decret. lib. I, lit. ii, " Cum Omnes." 



AND HER COMMUNITY 161 

smallest matter; "and if, from weakness or inadvertence, 
she ever happened accidentally to do so in some point of 
slight importance such as momentarily breaking silence, 
or being late for an exercise she regretted it so deeply that 
she instantly gave public testimony of her repentance, even 
to the shedding of abundant tears."* Not that she forgot 
the fact that her rule and constitutions bound only under 
pain of making satisfaction by corresponding penance, and 
not under pain of sin; but that besides her very high 
esteem for perfection in itself she felt so strongly about 
the disastrous effect on the spirit of a community that might 
result from the slightest transgressions of its prioress, one 
infraction of rule on her part, perhaps, giving countenance 
to a hundred committed by others. 

As we might suppose, however, the saint s zeal for regu 
lar observance did not end with the setting of a perfect 
example. She held herself just as strictly bound to prevent 
negligence in her subjects as to avoid it herself; and she 
went so far as to tell her nuns that " the slightest liberty she 
was to allow them against the Rule would be in her eyes an 
attempt against God Himself, that might provoke His anger, 
compromise their salvation, and even bring about the ruin 
of the convent as a final punishment." This was a sound 
principle; for, in fact, apart from the chastisement that im 
punity in offending deserves from God, it contains in itself 
the elements of inevitable decay. A community cannot pos 
sibly subsist unless correction incessantly keeps it alive, by 
holding it back from the abyss into which daily faults are 
perpetually tending to plunge it.f 

From these motives, our holy prioress had made a rule 
for herself never to let any fault, however small, pass unpun 
ished. She always imposed a penance proportionate to the 
offence: keeping here, as in all things, the due measure pre 
scribed by her kindness as well as her justice. In the same 
equitable spirit, too, she always gave her reproofs in the 

* Sandrini, lib. II, cap. xxii, p. 222. 

t Cf. Bossuet. "La peine rectifie le dsordre; qu on peche, c est un desordre. Mais 
qu on soit puni quand on peche, c est la regie. Vous revenez done, par la peine, dans 
1 ordre que vous eloigniez par la faute. Mais qu on peche impunement, c est le comble 
du desordre. C est le desordre non de celui qui peche, mais (du superieur) qui ne punit 
pas." Meditations sur VEi angilt, 

II 



1 62 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

gentlest and most affectionate form possible, never losing 
her serenity of manner, or letting words or voice betray the 
least personal emotion. Both in reproving and in giving 
necessary official commands, where an authoritative tone 
was sometimes called for, she made it evident that no mere 
human feelings influenced her, and that all her hatred of 
faults and imperfections in nowise lessened her tenderness 
and respect for those she had to correct. In fact, she really 
never gave reproofs or penances without first asking and 
waiting for light from the Holy Ghost, that she might 
see things only as God willed, and use the words with which 
He should inspire her. The consequence of all this was that 
the sisters used to say among themselves that " They found 
this difference between Mother Catherine s corrections and 
those of other superiors that hers remained permanently 
fixed in their minds, whilst other people s merely passed 
through them." 

The saint used, further, to impress upon her subjects 
the great benefit that doing penance for their faults would be 
to them in the next world as well as in this, as she was sure 
that it would spare them much purgatory, besides greatly 
increasing their merits: so that, by insisting on the fulfilling 
of penalties, she was doing them a great personal kindness. 

In spite, however, of her strictness and her high views 
of the matter, Catherine was delicately alive to the sensibi 
lities of her children, and extremely sensitive about not 
inflicting any lasting hurt by humiliations. Hence, Razzi 
says, she never allowed any sister on whom she had inflicted 
a penance to go to bed without having first shown her, by 
some specially affectionate word or deed, how truly she 
loved and felt for her. 

The two special points of rule as to which St Catherine 
was most strict in her government were the Divine Office, 
and the common community life in both spiritual or ascetical 
matters and outward customs. With regard to the first of 
these, a community in choir was in her eyes a portion of the 
heavenly court assembled round the throne of the Most 
High ; and never so happy herself as in this little heaven 
on earth she could not bear to see a single empty place 



AND HER COMMUNITY 163 

there. That perfect exactness on this point was not always 
customary in Religious communities of the day is clear from 
the saint s being described as glancing round the choir at the 
beginning of each " Hour " of the office, to see who were 
absent, and then either going to fetch these herself or send 
ing for them in her name. Then, when all were assembled, 
" she would exhort them to recollection and devotion during 
this holy exercise, and forbid them to go out from it with 
out express leave."* 

Neither was it of public prayer only that the saint made 
a great point with her nuns. She counted it as part of their 
vocation to cultivate the spirit of prayer generally, and this 
practice of as much private prayer as possible, so diligently 
that no other occupations should be allowed to hinder it ; 
and, as far as might be, she even lessened the common manual 
labour of the community so as to give more time for this: 
so fearful was she lest, by slight practice of actual mental 
prayer, the inward spirit of the hidden life of union with 
God should be lost. This diminishing of active work at San 
Vincenzio was a rather serious matter to undertake, for the 
community there had always depended to a great extent on 
the labour of their hands for their livelihood. It will be 
remembered that one of Catherine s great attractions to the 
convent, in her early days, had been the spirit of laborious 
poverty that she found in the sisters; and, though the nuns 
of Prato had nearly all come from rich and powerful Floren 
tine houses, in which work of any sort was practically 
unknown to the women of the families, they had sedulously 
kept up this spirit, sometimes even working so hard for 
their bread as to carry their hours of labour far on into the 
night. When Catherine became prioress, she saw that such 
excessive work and anxiety for their livelihood as this could 
not fail to injure the contemplative spirit, and she looked 
round to see what means she could find of reducing it to 
more just proportions. First, as usual, she turned to God 
Himself, with earnest prayer that He would by some means 
so provide for the bodily needs of her children that they 
might be freed from all undue attention to temporal matters, 

* Razzi, lib. Ill, cap. v,"p. 112. 



164 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

so as to turn their thoughts fully as became His faithful 
servants and spouses to things of the soul. Then, by hum 
ble requests to her own relations (well-to-do in the world) 
and to various rich people who as we shall shortly see had 
by this time become her "spiritual children," she succeeded 
in obtaining means enough for the community to exist in 
decent comfort without any undue exertions for earning. 
The only person in the house so Sandrini says whose 
condition was not the least improved by any outward help 
was the prioress herself. She remained in such utter desti 
tution of almost necessities, as to the furniture of her wretched 
cell and as to all things allowed for her use, that the sisters 
were often moved to tears of compunction when they left 
her presence, as they reflected on the extreme poverty 
that their mother insisted on practising herself, whilst so 
anxiously providing for her subjects every convenience 
consistent with the spirit of their Rule. 

On the point of common community life, the saint was 
almost as strong as on that of prayer; and by " common " 
life is not here meant only work or recreation in common, 
or a spirit of common fraternal charity, but the following 
in all things of the general Rule and spirit of the Order, as 
opposed to the setting up of a particular one in any matter, 
and of desiring private permissions or dispensations. Her 
strictness in this matter approached to sternness, and was 
exercised in two opposite directions. On the one hand, she 
was stern even to severity in refusing to dispense from 
fasting and abstinence, or any other penance prescribed by 
Rule, on the ground of slight ailments or mere general 
delicacy of health. She held that there was no more certain 
way for the evil spirit of relaxation to creep into a whole 
community than for a prioress to be the least lax with indi 
viduals upon this point; and she even went so far as to allow 
no one who was not ill enough to be actually in the infir 
mary to eat meat oftener than was prescribed by the Rule. 
Even if a few suffered to some extent from this strictness, 
she considered it better than for any risk of general laxity 
to be run : and the same as to absence from choir, for which 
she would never give leave on slight grounds. 



I 



AND HER COMMUNITY 165 

On the other hand, the holy young prioress guarded her 
nuns with equal care from an opposite danger: that of those 
restive and usually proud spirits, to be found in almost all 
communities, who wish to make rules of exceptional severity 
for themselves, and to do extra and peculiar penances, or 
to have special and unusual times of prayer, so as to be 
different from others. She made ceaseless war on this abuse 
of invading the domain of common usage by the intrusion 
of private practices. Both in public addresses and private 
interviews she most earnestly advised her daughters to be 
ware of entering on this course. " She exhorted them, speak 
ing as for God Himself, to do everything to avoid what 
she called a fall and a misfortune, and would threaten with 
divine chastisement any who should follow this way of their 
own accord." She did not understand, she said, " how, 
between people who had taken the same vows and who pro 
fessed the same Rule, there could be two ways of keeping it; 
nor how, in a convent where there was no union in exterior 
life, there could be harmony in the service of God."* No 
matter under how specious an appearance of good how 
strong a wish for a higher standard this desire for peculiarity 
might show itself, she always vigorously denounced it as 
" an odious, intolerable, and even diabolical vice." There is 
a story told of her one night pursuing the devil in the form 
of a "creature that looked like a fox, holding a written paper 
in his mouth, through the convent dormitories, until she 
compelled him to give up to the paper to her. She could 
not read it herself, but ordered him in God s name to tell 
her the meaning of the words written on it; and the evil 
one, before disappearing, told her it meant " to produce, 
under the appearance of good, nothing but disorder and 
scandals." This story is told by Razzi; and, whether literally 
true or not, is in any case symbolic of the extreme horror in 
which Catherine was known by her contemporaries to hold 
this spirit of restless innovation on the common Rule. 

It was not, however, only general light on the govern 
ment of the house that Catherine received from God, but 
also particular and often very wonderful knowledge about 

* Sandrini, lib. I, cap. xxxv, p. 116. 



1 66 ST CATHERINE DE RICC1 

each of her nuns. It will be remembered that she had already 
had the gift of reading hearts and learning their secrets; 
and a story, belonging to this period, of how she exercised 
the gift in the case of a young sister called Eufrasia Mas- 
calzoni, is worth telling here for the naive picture it gives 
of the daily interior of San Vincenzio and its community, 
as well as for the supernatural side of it which throws 
special light on the nature of Catherine s ecstasies. The 
young nun in question was tenderly and devotedly attached 
to the saint, and lived on terms of special familiarity with 
her; but for some time she was slightly incredulous as to 
the fullness of her miraculous powers. Now, one Friday 
morning (it was, of course, before the cessation of the 
weekly great ecstasy), walking in the garden, Sister Eufrasia 
thought she would weave a beautiful wreath of flowers for 
Sister Catherine, and thereupon gathered jasmine, stocks, 
and other such flowers, which she then took with her into 
the cell of a Sister Prudenzia Ginoni, who was lying in bed 
ill and whom she was taking care of. Chatting to the latter of 
her plan, she said that she meant to place her crown on the 
saint s head whilst she was in ecstasy, but that she wished 
her not to know by whose hand it was done. Sister Pru 
denzia reminded her that Sister Catherine, being most 
closely united to our Lord in her ecstasy, would know 
whatever happened by revelation from her Divine Spouse 
without any need for another to tell her. This was just 
a matter on which Sister Eufrasia was doubtful, so she 
shook her head and made answer: "I do not believe that 
when she is in a state of rapture, she takes notice of the 
least thing we do in her presence." 

At that very moment, Catherine, who was in her cell, 
and in the midst of her ecstasy, suddenly interrupted it to 
say to Sister Elizabeth Ferrini, who was there: "Go and 
tell Sister Eufrasia, from me, to come here; for, as she has 
had a fall, I will help her up." The sister took the message; 
and Eufrasia, greatly surprised, declared that she could 
remember no fall she had had, and knew not what the saint 
meant. However, she finished her crown, in which were 
five beautiful red stocks, in honour of the Saviour s five 



AND HER COMMUNITY 167 

wounds, on a groundwork of white jasmine flowers which 
signified the purity which she ardently longed for. She took 
this to Sister Maddalena Strozzi, who put it on Catherine s 
head in memory of the Crown of Thorns. Next day, Eufra- 
sia went to see the holy sister now not in ecstasy who 
greeted her by saying pleasantly: " It was not of a bodily 
fall, but of a spiritual one, that I wanted to speak to you 
yesterday"; and then, smiling, began exhorting her to be 
more believing in future about the gifts of God. 

After the public ecstasy of the Passion had ceased, this 
gift of reading hearts still remained with her, and one may 
well understand what a marvellous help it was to her in the 
guidance of souls. She constantly made use of it for helping 
her nuns to correct interior faults of thought, or of desires 
contrary to duty, about which she felt quite as anxious as 
about exterior offences. Thus, during office, or any time of 
general prayer in choir, if a sister happened to let her mind 
dwell upon irrelevant subjects, the holy prioress would leave 
her own place, go gently up to her, and whisper into her 
ear but always most kindly that this was not the time 
for thinking of such and such an object (which she named), 
and that before God one should entertain none but holy 
thoughts. The delinquents themselves used to tell the com 
munity these things: quite indifferent to their own credit 
if they could add to the glory of their beloved mother; and 
the saint s biographers have recorded the names of some 
of the nuns to whom such incidents happened. One of 
these, Sister Domenica Poccetti, tells how Mother Cathe 
rine came to her one day in church she being then only 
one of the pensionnaires educated in the convent and 
said to her: " Cornelia, my child, think about the prayers 
you are saying with your companions, and not about the 
new dress that your father has promised you. Don t wish 
for these things that trouble the soul desire instead to 
put on Jesus Christ." Then, taking her by the hand, the 
saint made her kneel down before a crucifix, and in a moment 
her soul got back its recollection and devotion. 

At other times than those of prayer, also, the nuns would 
be warned by their ever-watchful mother of any thoughts 



1 68 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

that were the least contrary to the law of God, and entreated 
to reject them : for there was no place or occasion in 
which she counted strict interior control to be unimportant. 
There are many anecdotes of her exercise of this gift, but 
the two just given will suffice as instances of her mode -of 
dealing with the definite faulty thoughts of her subjects. 
Besides these, she often had light given her as to their feel 
ings and dispositions, and especially as to the greater or 
less love and fervour with which they respectively received 
the Holy Eucharist. Our Lord is said sometimes to have 
shown her this, by appearing to her in the Sacred Host 
held by the priest under the form of an Infant, whose 
divine face changed its expression as the sisters went up to 
communion varying from a look of intense joy as some 
approached, to one of even deep sadness for others. She 
would use the knowledge thus gained for their spiritual 
profit. 

Two other details of Catherine de Ricci s government 
are dwelt upon by her biographers. One is the extreme 
dislike that she had to the slightest affectation or worldly 
conventionality in outward behaviour whether in man 
ners, speech, or personal habits of any kind, including 
over-nicety about clothes, which seems to have been a 
weakness not uncommonly brought into Religious life 
amongst her contemporaries. She could not endure her 
nuns to keep anything approaching "society" ways in their 
intercourse with one another, and made relentless war against 
everything that was not perfectly simple, straightforward, 
and sensible in conversation, having a horror Sandrini 
tells us of all feminine affectations, which might pass for 
pretty manners in the world, but which she thought utterly 
unsuitable to their state and contrary to real humility. 

The other point specially noted is that to set against 
her strictness as to conduct Catherine s readiness to give 

o 

up her time, and her own personal convenience, to her 
nuns, was almost without bounds. They might come to 
her whenever they liked, and talk reasonably or unreason 
ably about themselves and their difficulties or desires, as 
long as they liked. She never rebuffed them; and never got 



AND HER COMMUNITY 169 

either impatient or disgusted by any want of sense, or good 
breeding, or consideration that they might show. Hers was 
a large community, and like others in not lacking difficult 
and trying subjects amongst its members; but difficulties 
did not discourage the saint or cool her affection for those 
who caused them. She acted in everything on the principle 
set forth by St Francis of Assisi when he said to the supe 
riors of his communities: "Where your brothers are con 
cerned, be so easy of access and so obliging that they can 
act and speak as if they were your masters and you their 
slave; for to be the father minister (the superior) is indeed 
to be the slave of one s brothers." The " slave " of her 
sisters Mother Catherine truly was, meeting all their de 
mands so sweetly, brightly and lovingly, that it never even 
occurred to them that they might be inconveniencing her 
by the way they took up her time at all hours; and always 
sending them away so truly sympathized with and so 
marvellously well advised, that whatever griefs were op 
pressing them had disappeared, and their hearts had grown 
calm and happy, when they left her. 

In temporal matters, too, St Catherine was as much at 
her children s service as in their spiritual or mental needs, 
taking such trouble to get them any little things they might 
want, or to give any little pleasure they might wish for, that 
each sister felt as if she were the only person her superior 
had to think about. In fact, says Sandrini, she really did 
" love each of her sisters in particular as if she had been 
her true mother " : so that her sympathy and desire for the 
nuns welfare was in no wise feigned, or merely ex officio. 

Knowing all this, we are not surprised at the account 
given of the saint s care of her subjects when illness was in 
question. Directly she knew that any one was really ailing, 
she went and found out for herself exactly what was the 
matter and took the right measures for the case. She visited 
the sick sister day and night, even if only to comfort her 
by kind and affectionate words; and if there was any service 
she could do for her was only too rejoiced to perform it,, 
for her own satisfaction as well as for helping the patient. 
When the case was one that required watching at night, she 



1 70 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

never failed to come two or three hours before Matins to 
the sick-room, to send away whatever sister had been sitting 
up, and take her place. She helped the sick, too, in other 
ways than by her tender care for their bodies, sometimes 
exercising actual miraculous gifts for their benefit. More 
than once, we are told, when a member of the community 
was stricken by some incurable complaint which would keep 
her lingering on in terrible pain, the sisters begged their 
prioress to ask of God that the sufferer s time on earth might 
be shortened, lest she should be tempted to offend Him by 
impatience or despondency. They knew that Catherine had 
both granted their request and herself been heard, when 
they saw her redoubling her attentions to the patient. In 
deed, in all cases of grave illness, the nuns were wont to 
say amongst themselves: " Our sister has not long to live, 
for the mother s visits are getting so frequent." When death 
was actually approaching, the saint never left her daughter s 
side at all; and now was the time when her most wonderful 
help of all was given to their souls. As soon as a dying sister 
was in her agony, Catherine entered into ecstasy, the better 
to protect her departing spirit in its passage from this world 
to the next by being herself the more closely united to her 
Divine Spouse. Then, we are told, after having accompanied 
the holy soul " to heaven or to purgatory," she came out 
of her ecstasy, leant lovingly over the departed, and piously 
closed her eyes; after which she helped the sisters in pre 
paring the body for burial and clothing it in the habit 
always making it her own special office to adorn the head 
(doubtless, with the profession wreath) and to place it gently 
on the pillow. 

So invariably was this order of things carried out that 
the sisters would never venture to believe that a dying 
person had actually gone, so long as their prioress remained 
in ecstasy ; and in that fortunate community the ordinary 
ways of describing death " She is no more," " She is 
dead " were unknown. They would beautifully say in 
stead: "Our sister has certainly gone to her heavenly 
Spouse; for here is our mother, who went with her, come 
back from the journey." 



AND HER COMMUNITY 171 

It will be seen from this account that, whilst delivered 
by God from all supernatural states which could in any way 
hinder the duties of office or prove injurious to the con 
vent s welfare, Catherine, as prioress, was still subject to 
being publicly rapt into ecstasy whenever her being so 
would profit or edify others ; and we find that, no matter 
how completely her time seemed taken up, and her facul 
ties absorbed, in the work of practical business of which 
she transacted a large amount for the community in the 
course of her government these raptures never ceased to 
occur at intervals throughout her life, so that she appeared 
sometimes to be living the life of two saints in one; for she 
worked with such untiring energy and burning charity for 
the good of her neighbour, and with such success in her 
undertakings, that one might have thought her called only 
to the active life; whilst, in the midst of it all, her soul would 
be caught up at a moment s notice into such complete 
separation from all around her, and such close union with 
God, as showed her to be a most perfect contemplative. 
Amongst the occasions on which she continued to appear 
in ecstasy one of the most frequent was that of a clothing. 
This was a ceremony commonly spoken of in her time as 
the spiritual bridal for which she had a particular affection, 
and which she always did her utmost to make as bright and 
cheerful as possible, inviting the friends of the novices, 
providing the best fore she could for a feast, and in every 
way entering into the celebration of the day as a mother 
enters into that of her daughter s wedding ; but showing 
how purely spiritual was her joy by the rapture into which 
it rarely failed to send her. A story is related of one of these 
clothings (date not given) which well illustrates both their 
natural and supernatural characters. It is thus told by 
Razzi : 

One day, when they had given the habit to two young 
sisters, both daughters of Antonio Neroni, a Florentine 
gentleman, they had, according to custom, invited the 
parents to eat a modest repast with the nuns. Towards 
the end of this, the saint went herself round the tables, 
distributing preserved fruits to the illustrious guests, when 



1 72 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

she suddenly found that the bowl containing them was so 
nearly empty that there would be nothing left for half the 
community. Then, turning in her heart to one of her 
greatest advocates with God, she begged Him to come 
to her help ; and thereupon the fruits were miraculously 
multiplied under her hand, so that all the sisters were 
abundantly provided, to the great wonder of all present 
who saw the prodigy. Many of the guests, indeed, kept 
some of the miraculous fruits and took them to Florence. 
But what charmed and impressed them most of all was to 
see the saint finish doing the honours of her table in a state 
of ecstasy; for "the presence of that angel on earth made 
them taste such pure joy and delight that they forgot the 
pleasures of earthly feasts." 

As most people know, the superior of a Religious com 
munity washes the feet of his or her subjects on Maundy 
Thursday. This was, again, an occasion which usually threw 
St Catherine into a rapture. She would fall into this state 
immediately on entering the refectory where the ceremony 
was to be; would say a Pater noster^ with crossed arms and 
bent body, after which she signed a cross on the floor with 
her thumb and respectfully kissed it; and would then pro 
ceed to wash the feet of the nuns the eldest firstbeing 
all the while in ecstasy. It is said that the sight of their 
holy prioress, thus humbly kneeling at their feet whilst in 
a state of supernatural union with her Divine Spouse, so 
forcibly represented our Lord Himself to the sisters as 
always to produce tears of deep love and compunction, and 
at the same time to fill them with spiritual joy the reason, 
doubtless, that the yearly manifestation was granted. 

Catherine, however, was very far from relying on purely 
supernatural means for promoting evangelical perfection 
amongst her children. None knew better than she did that 
the gift of true contemplation is but to the few; and that 
even those few cannot remain always on the heights, but 
must come down at intervals to take breath, as it were, on 
a more earthly level; and she was not above employing 
simple and common means of satisfying ordinary human 
needs, by taking the greatest pains to provide sensible 



AND HER COMMUNITY 173 

objects of piety for her community, in the form of pictures, 
statues, and small altars and shrines in every part of the 
convent. She held that even the most highly contemplative 
souls needed at times to use such objects of devotion, both 
as a temporary rest from mental effort, and as helps to 
wards making fresh starts in supernatural prayer ; whilst 
to many they were the chief means of keeping alive holy 
thoughts and suggesting heavenly images, such as should 
strengthen and encourage them in their high vocation. She 
is said, moreover, not merely to have covered the convent 
walls at every turn with painted or sculptured portraits of 
saints and martyrs, but to have taken great trouble to get 
good ones; holding, she said, the best to be the most devo 
tional, "because they were the truest"* As to the little 
chapels and shrines that she raised which were not in the 
house only, but in the garden and grounds she liked 
the sisters to make up for being prevented, through their 
enclosure, from going on real pilgrimages, by treating these 
as places of pilgrimage and visiting them with great devo 
tion to obtain special graces. Amongst all these shrines, the 
one that she most liked to see used in this way and which 
was the object of her own chief devotion was the "chapel 
of the holy relics." Catherine s love for relics was so great, 
that all her friends well knew they could give her no present 
so pleasing as a fresh one of some great saint, and well- 
authenticated; and it became in time a sort of emulation 
amongst her friends outside, both lay and clerical, who 
should get her the most and the best. They had them also 
beautifully set often in jewelled reliquaries for her; 
so that the chapel given up to them became really magni 
ficent in time, and the saint named it the "little Rome." 
Towards the end of her life she is said to have collected 
nearly three hundred relics. 

Another shrine that Catherine greatly loved was an exact 
imitation of the " Holy House " of Loreto, built against 
a high wall in the convent garden. She got the model and 
plan of this from a Monsignor Rossetti de Ferrara abb 
of a church in Orleans who brought them with him on 

* Sandrini, lib. II, cap. xxii, p. 224. 



i 7 4 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

his way back from Loreto, when he came to pay a visit to 
Prato a few years after she was first prioress. He not only 
gave the plans, but paid for the building of the little 
sanctuary, whose walls Catherine had painted with the his 
tory of the translation of the Santa Casa and the miracles 
connected with it. 

Next to the direct duties to her community, the holy 
prioress s chief interest and delight was the care of the poor, 
towards whom she insisted on the practice of the most gene 
rous monastic hospitality. Her first act, after each fresh 
election, was to give special orders to the portress sisters 
on this point; she required that every poor person who came 
to the door should be pleasantly received, and sent away 
"satisfied in some manner" : i.e., if not with material help 
which might happen to be impossible at least with the 
assurance of sympathy and desire to help. She had such a 
deep and genuine love and reverence for the poor and for their 
condition that she liked, when possible, to make the bread 
to be used for them with her own hands; and there is a 
story told of how she once went into an ecstasy whilst 
doing this, and how the whole batch of bread that she thus 
made had a wonderfully delicious flavour. 

Amongst the many cases of distress that Mother Cathe 
rine liked to relieve, none interested her more than those 
of girls who could neither marry, nor enter convents if 
they wished, for lack of the necessary dot. Throughout her 
life she took the greatest trouble, by looking into their cases 
and representing them to the rich, to settle such young 
women in life; and she succeeded in making a great num 
ber happy, for both her relations and her numerous wealthy 
friends, finding what an excellent use the saint made of all 
alms bestowed upon her, seldom let her want means for her 
charities. She received considerable sums from her uncle 
Federigo de Ricci, and from Giuliano and Alessandro 
Capponi, amongst others; and a devout follower of hers, 
Tommaso Ginori, presented an important landed estate to 
the convent, on condition that the income derived from it 
should be entirely given up to the free disposal of Mother 
Catherine during her lifetime. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 175 

We have now pretty clearly before us the salient features 
of our saint s government, with its combination of strict 
ness, tenderness, practical sense, and use of supernatural 
gifts in her daughters service; and we do not wonder 
when her biographer tells us that the effect of such a rule 
was not only the attainment of high sanctity by this large 
community of nearly a hundred and sixty souls, but the 
bringing about of a deep peace, and a warm and tender 
union of hearts amongst the sisters, that were most remark- 

o J 

able. Some great lady, who knew San Vincenzio well, is 
said to have declared that it "was not merely a cloister full 
of holy maidens, but an assemblage of angels in human 
form, and a living image of the heavenly Jerusalem." 

One more trait only shall be given here, to complete 
the picture of this favoured community, which seems to 
have added to its real strength in holiness a certain quality 
of natural grace and womanly charm peculiar to itself 
may be, in part, inseparable from the gracious country to 
which it belonged. 

The friendship that united these sisters, we are told by 
Razzi, was so strong that it bound them together even at 
the very portals of death. Some of them could not make 
up their minds to depart to their divine Spouse until they 
had bid farewell to their beloved sisters all together; and 
they would have themselves carried on a small bed, when 
nearly dying, into the community room, "that they might 
kiss them all, one after the other." The actual names of 
two who did this have been handed down Sister Tecla 
d Antonio Neroni, an old nun confirmed in virtue; and 
Sister Pacifica de Guadagni, a novice of fifteen summers, 
dying in her first innocence. 

But beyond the momentary pang of parting, these 
holy virgins had only joy for their own or their sisters 
departure, which they treated almost as a fete. Just as St 
Francis of Assisi, dying, asked his sons to sing the canticle 
of his brother the sun and his sister death, so, at San Vin 
cenzio, did the sisters gather round their companions 
death-bed to sing a devout lauda which they had themselves 
composed as the canticle of .their flight to heaven. The 



176 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

words of the first verse of this lauda only are given to us, 
and are as follows: 

Diletta Soror mia, si appressa 1 ora 
Che del andare allo Sposo immortale: 
Metteti in punto, O Vergine decora, 
E fa avere la vesta nuzziale; 
Accio che possi comparir presente 
Al convito del Re celestiale. 

In short, such were the fervour and spiritual joy which 
reigned in that strictly observant house in St Catherine s 
day that two well-known Florentine ladies, who were allowed 
to live there in retirement when they became widows, were 
never tired of thanking God for having called them to 
share in its holy pleasures. They used constantly to say 
that "if people in the world could only know the blissful 
life and the heavenly delights that those sainted maidens 
enjoyed in their enclosure, there would be such a rush to 
get in that the doors would not be large enough for the 
crowd they would have to get over the walls!" 

Perhaps there are some who could vouch that similar 
joys are not altogether unknown to fervent Religious com 
munities, even in the twentieth century. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 



177 



CHAPTER XIV 

Filippo Salviati and his Services toSanVincenzio St Catherine s Influence 
on and Correspondence with him 

IT will be remembered that when Mother Rafaella da Faenza 
wished for a great saint for her community, she also wished 
for a large church. This last wish was not granted in her 
lifetime, its fulfilment being left to the saint given to her 
prayers. Catherine, we have seen, had not scrupled to beg 
for her convent where real necessities, and the freedom from 
wearing and distracting anxieties, were concerned; but with 
regard to matters beyond this, such as better buildings, 
more space, or anything that could come merely under the 
head of convenience or improvements, she never came for 
ward herself. She waited, for all such things, on Providence, 
trusting to God to raise up friends able to provide them 
without her asking when He saw good a hope in which 
the saints rarely find themselves disappointed, and which was 
amply fulfilled in Catherine s case. The convent, when she 
came to govern it, was both in great need of repair from 
its age, and extremely inconvenient from the small size and 
bad arrangement of its buildings; and, amongst other needs, 
the "large church " was a great one. It was, however, to 
be provided before long; and the history of its building is 
associated with that of a family whose connection with 
Catherine is to form the subject of this chapter. 

Readers will not have forgotten the miracle worked by 
the saint s prayers in the year 1543, on Maria, wife of 
Filippo Salviati, a first cousin of Cosmo de Medici, whose 
mother Princess Maria Salviati was Filippo s aunt. The 
Salviati family, though so closely related to the reigning 
house, were by no means great upholders of the Medici 
supremacy; and they had even lived in the days of Filippo s 
father, Averardo for some time as exiles from Florence, 
at Bologna, sharing with other exiles the fallacious hope of 

12 



i 7 8 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



freedom for their city by means of the French. When Filippo 
became head of the house, he returned to Florence, but kept 
out of politics, and lived chiefly on an estate of his called 
Valdimarina, half-way between the city and Prato. When 
the miracle in question took place, he went with his wife 
Maria to San Vincenzio, to return thanks for her recovery; 
and it is noted, as a little instance of his unwillingness in 
those days to spend money on anything but his own com 
fort or happiness, that whereas he sent ten crowns to the 
convent when he asked Sister Catherine to pray for his 
wife s cure, there is no record of his having given one scudo 
as a thanksgiving even though his visit to Prato must have 
made him an eye-witness of its extreme need. 

Filippo Salviati is described as a man who, without 
being the least actively bad in any way, was, for all the earlier 
part of his life useless in his generation and anything but 
a brilliant example to his neighbours, from being so en 
tirely wrapped up in his own concerns that he never looked 
beyond personal interests. He was extremely rich, and 
extremely fond of all the conveniences and refined pleasures 
that riches bring; and to the cultivation of this kind of 
happiness he devoted himself, counting it quite a sufficient 
sacrifice to virtue that he refrained from injuring anyone. 
In short, he seems to have been a kind of Dives, but with 
the merit of warm family affections, as was shown by his 
passionate grief when his wife s life was in danger. He was 
not, however, destined to the end of Dives he was to be 
the subject of miracles of grace. 

The visit to Prato in 1 543 seems to have had no effect 
on Filippo beyond rousing a superficial feeling of admira 
tion and devotion for the saint whom he there saw for a 
short time through the grille. He talked a great deal about 
her, and expressed much curiosity as to the various marvels 
that were reported in connection with her ecstasies. His 
faith, however, is said to have stopped short at the account 
that was by-and-by brought from Prato of Catherine s mystic 
espousals, he declaring it impossible to believe that a human 
being, however holy, could receive an actual ring in pledge 
from Jesus Christ, no matter how close might be her spiri- 



AND HER COMMUNITY 179 

tual union with Him. Of this doubt, we are told, he was 
cured by a miraculous vision. Catherine appeared to him 
in his sleep, all radiant with light, and smilingly showed 
him on her finger the brilliant ring of her mystic betrothal, 
which she held out for him to kiss. Then she said, "To 
show you to-morrow that this was no mere dream, I am 
going to make you feel its truth by pricking your lip, * 
and forthwith pressed the ring on his mouth, when Filippo 
felt a sharp sensation like a diamond piercing his lip. The 
pain of it lasted for several months, and he used to say that 
" it would have been better for him to have believed at once 
than to have been convinced in this way, but that still he 
was rather glad than sorry for what had happened." * 

This supernatural visitation, however, by no means com 
pleted Filippo s conversion to a less selfish life. He remained 
for a long time still indifferent to the needs of the poor, 
and unwilling to part with his wealth, and did not even 
think of helping the community containing the saintly 
virgin who had thus been sent to strengthen his weak 
faith. It does not appear to be known when Filippo was 
first so strongly touched by grace as to have his conscience 
roused to his many sins of omission in respect of charity 
to his neighbour, though it is conjectured that this must 
have happened not very long after his vision ; and that a 
kind of fear, lest more spiritual demands should be made 
upon him than he felt prepared to meet, was the cause of 
his breaking altogether with San Vincenzio, personally, for 
more than ten years from the time of his first visit there. 
However this may be, it is certain that he is heard of no 
more in connection with the convent till the year 1553, 
when a fresh miracle was vouchsafed to prepare him for the 
work he was destined to do for it, during which interval 
he lived in the same comfortable retirement as before, 
changing his place of abode, as the fancy took him, from 
one to another of several magnificent villas that he possessed. 

In 1553, France declared war against the Republic of 
Siena. This outbreak threatened Florence and its neigh- 

* Pere Bayonne gives this story without referring, as he usually does, to one of the 
Italian biographers, and mentions no source for it. We therefore do not know on what 
authority it rests, but have retained it for its own beauty. 



i8o ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

bourhood with great disturbance, from the passage of the 
French army with its various attendant circumstances; so 
Filippo true to his principle of avoiding all upsets of his 
own peace and comfort decided to go off to Bologna, 
where he could live quietly and remain neutral. His wife 
appears to have remained at home with some of the children 
(they had two sons and some daughters), as we are told only 
of his taking with him his youngest son Averardo quite 
a child two friends, a chaplain, and some servants. They 
started from Valdimarina, taking a route over the Apennines, 
on a December day which was quite clear and fine when 
they set out. But they had hardly got into the moun 
tains when the weather changed, and they were so hindered 
by snow that they could hardly get on; and when at last 
they reached the little inn which was to be their stopping- 
place, they were kept there four days by stress of weather. 
Then it cleared, and they started again ; but suddenly the 
sky was overcast, the snow began to fall afresh, thick and 
heavy, and there arose such a hurricane of wind as was said 
hardly ever before to have been known in the spot they 
had reached a precipitous peak of the mountains called 
Giogo. The tempest was so violent that the little party of 
people got separated, and lost sight of each other in the 
darkness and blinding snow; and Filippo was in terror lest 
he should lose his child. Then, in his fright, he called 
earnestly upon God, and made a vow on the spot that he 
would do whatsoever his Maker asked of him, if only they 
might all get safely out of this danger ; and he afterwards 
declared that he had heard, through the din of the storm, 
a voice distinctly say: "A church at San Vincenzio a 
church at San Vincenzio! " Immediately afterwards he found 
his child and all his friends near him, safe and sound ; and 
very soon, the sky clearing a little, they saw a shepherd s 
hut within reach, where they were able to shelter and rest 
till the wind subsided and let them go on their way. They 
reached Bologna that night, and offered fervent thanks for 
their safety. 

Filippo s heart appears to have been finally touched and 
changed by this occurrence; but he was detained at Bologna 



I 



AND HER COMMUNITY 181 

for two or three years, and in other ways hindered; and it 
was not until three years after Catherine s first election as 
prioress, 1557, that he appeared once more before the 
convent grille, to renew his acquaintance with her, to tell 
her himself the history of his full conversion, and to con 
sult her on the immediate carrying out of his project.* He 
made his plans and preparations so quickly that the founda 
tion stone was laid on April 5, 1558, the feast of St Vincent 
Ferrer, patron of the convent. 

The sisters, who had known, in common with other 
people, the former character of Salviati for parsimony with 
regard to his neighbour, had convincing proof of his 
thorough change in the magnificent scale on which he pro 
vided materials of every kind for the building of their 
church, and the large size that he determined to make it. 
The whole community, with characteristic simplicity and 
affectionateness, took him straight to their hearts, and 
looked upon him henceforth as a real father to whom they 
could never show gratitude enough. Catherine, however, 
whilst sharing this filial attitude towards Filippo, was not 
satisfied to stop short at grateful affection: she must carry 
on the conversion of heart in which God had already made 
her an instrument to the highest possible degree of perfec 
tion, and must have her benefactor for a spiritual son as well 
as for the father of her community. How she fulfilled this 
task is shown in what remains of her correspondence with 
Filippo, which consists of twenty-four letters written within 
a period of little more than a year from the latter half of 
1560, throughout 1561, whilst the church was in progress. 

The small selection from these letters, to follow here, 
will speak for themselves; but, before giving them, it will 
be convenient to say something shortly about the chief 
people often mentioned in them by name. 

The Mona Maria so often referred to is, of course, Maria 
Salviati, Filippo s wife; who, though only messages and not 
letters were sent to her, was a great friend, and did many 

* It seems clear that, though absenting himself for so long from Prato, Filippo had 
laid no restriction on intercourse between his family and the nuns: as will be seen, one 
of his daughters was actually a novice in the convent before his own return there. 



1 82 ST CATHERINE DE RICCJ 

kindnesses to the convent: amongst others, entertaining the 
lay-sisters and the young lady alumnae at the Villa Valdima- 
rina in the holidays. Sisters Maria Filippa and Fede Vittoria 
were Filippo s daughters, "in the world" Nannina and Cas 
sandra. The former had been clothed in 1556: the history 
of the latter s reception is given in the first letter below. Of 
Sister Maddalena Strozzi enough has already been said; but 
special mention must be made of the Sister Bernarda, so 
often named in Catherine s letters to other people as well 
as to Salviati. Her secular name was Selvaggia Giachinotti, 
daughter of a Bernardo Giachinotti of Florence, and she was 
professed in 1544. She was a very holy nun, and a very 
great favourite with the people outside the convent ; but 
what causes her to play so large a part in the saint s corre 
spondence, and to be so closely associated with her work 
as superior, is that she was " Syndica"* of the convent for 
more than thirty years, and hence had everything to do with 
money matters, alms-giving, and all external business. This 
will explain the kind of allusions, whether playful or serious, 
so often made by her. 

Sister Maria Jacopa, also spoken of in the letters, was 
a Lucrezia Cini, who had belonged to the community since 
1 538. She was specially intimate with Catherine, who greatly 
esteemed her, and is noted in the history of Salviati for having 
been the person to whom he confided (in a letter) the account 
of his mysterious "call" during the storm in the Appenines, 
as well as other graces that he received through the saint 
in the course of his life. Some of Filippo s letters to Jacopa 
Cini are largely quoted in Razzi s "Life" (Book I, chap. ix). 

These are the people to whom reference in the following 
letters is frequent enough to make special mention of them 
desirable; for less important names the reader may be re 
ferred to notes. The only thing remaining to say about the 
letters now to follow and which applies to all future corre 
spondence as well as to that with Salviati is to remind 
readers that whenever Catherine speaks of somebody else 
as " Mother Prioress " this means that she herself is, for the 

* This office is called in English communities by different names, as well as by that 
of Syndica : e.g., Procuratrix, Econome, Dispenser : according to the custom of the order j 
but in all cases it practically means " housekeeper." 



AND HER COMMUNITY 183 

time being, j#$-prioress, for the reasons given in a former 
chapter.* 

" Most honoured and dearly-loved Father, greeting ! f 
"Two days ago, I wrote you what was necessary about 
Cassandra : that is, that she had rather you would leave her 
here until she sends you notice; so that, in talking to her 
yesterday evening, I said : c Cassandra, I am afraid that, as 
your father has been asked to leave you here, if we say 
nothing more to him he will suspect something, and come 
to fetch you as soon as possible. She replied : I would on 
no account have him come for me yet. As to becoming a 
nun, I wish to do so; but I don t wish to speak about it to 
the sisters without having told him first. Then I said : 
<I don t think he will let you do it. And I, she answered, 
believe that he will let me do what I please; but I would 
rather not go home so soon, so as to have too many struggles 
there, especially with Lucrezia. She also told Sister Maria 
PiaJ that she has determined to be a nun, but one can see that 
she wants to stay here just a little longer, so as to strengthen 
her soul, and also that she wants you to be told first of her 
resolution. Therefore, if you can leave her to us for another 
eight or ten days, I should think it a great advantage. 

"Be sure, my dear Father, that nobody here has ever 
said one word to influence her : she has been allowed to see 
everything connected with the Order, and with our obser 
vances, and we have noticed that she has paid great atten 
tion to it all; but the fact of her desire comes from Jesus 
Himself; He would have that soul entirely. I want, then, 
to encourage you not to take it from Him; for certainly you 
will have more real satisfaction in giving your daughter to 
our Lord for His own, than you would in refusing her to 
Him only to give her to a mortal spouse, subject to all the 
miseries of this life. Even if some fuss should be made 
about the matter, you ought not for that reason to act against 

* Chap. xix. 

t This is Catherine s mode of beginning all her letters to Filippo Salviati. She like 
wise always signs herself as his " daughter." 

Sister Maria Pia was the daughter of a Giovanni Snlviati, and appears to have been 
a niece of Filippo s. Lucrezia mentioned more than once in the letters must have 
been Cassandra s sister, though we are not told so. 



184 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

your duty; for as you know, the things of God must always 
meet with opposition, especially when they clash with earthly 
plans. I think it would be well, when you come here, not 
to let Cassandra see that you know anything, but to let her 
be the first to speak, so as to give you her confidence sponta 
neously. Moreover, I think myself that you had better not 
discuss the matter with any one : but this I must leave to 
your own judgement. We do not forget, here, to pray that 
all may be ordered by our Lord for both your daughter s 
salvation and your satisfaction. 

" Mother Maria Maddalena (Strozzi), from fear of you, 
sent you word yesterday that I had an attack of fever ; but 
do not think I am ill, as, to judge by present symptoms, 
the fit has passed and I do not think it will return. 

"My best greetings to you, to Mona Maria, and to all. 
May God keep you ! 

" Mother Prioress * commends herself to you, 
"Your daughter, 

" SISTER CATHERINE DE RICCI. 
"Prato, July 4, 1560." 

"I have received your most welcome letter. . . . 

" You tell me you do not feel well, and I quite believe 
it although I do not see what can be done. I would however 
remind you that we shall, hereafter, have to give an account 
for our indiscretion as well as for our superfluous care of 
ourselves. I wish that you would not do things beyond your 
strength : you will injure yourself irreparably. For instance 
you ought not to have gone from here. You were told so 
often enough, but you only answered: Whether it snow, or 
whether it hail, go I will. It is useless to argue with a man 
who has made up his mind, and you were determined to go, 
come what might .... although I was very sorry to hear 
it and would, had I been able, have kept every drop from 
falling on your dear head. But you would not obey me who 

* " Mother Prioress," then, was Sister Margherita di Bardo, a nun who filled that 
office many times at San Vincenzio. There is no more correspondence on the subject of 
this letter, so doubtless Salviati came over and settled it all in person. Cassandra was 
clothed five months later on November n, 1560 "in Margherita di Bardo s fifth 
Priorate," taking the name of Fede Vittoria. She lived till 1624. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 185 

am so full of good wishes towards you. Then came your 
carriage accident and your difficulty in getting home. Surely 
it would have been more pleasing to Jesus had you remained 
at home instead of going whither you went. I do not mean 
that He is displeased if we suffer in doing right for love of 
Him : on the contrary, this is most acceptable to Him as 
long as we keep within the limits of prudence and reason. 
We shall nevertheless be judged for indiscretion, but on this 
point I will say no more. 

"Here we are at nine o clock on Tuesday evening, and 
I think you must have ended your day and gone to rest. 
I assure you that this weather is most unfavourable to your 
health, so I beg of you to be content to take some care 
of yourself at least until the middle of April. Do this for the 
love of Jesus and for the sake of your daughters and in 
order to gain time during which you may work for God, for 
this indeed ought to be our aim. 

"The jubilee has passed and we thank Lorenzo for it: 
I am very glad to have had it. 

" I do not know how to express my self more clearly about 
the cell than I have done in my other letter. Sister Fede 
Vittoria prefers it small and does not think of the objection 
which I pointed out to you, viz., that in stormy weather she 
is frightened and must have a sister with her, and it would 
not be agreeable for two to remain for some days in a small 
cell until she be reassured .... But if you will make it 
as you think best, all difficulties will be at an end. 

"I have received the wine and some of it was given me 
at collation last night after I had read your letter, for my 
throat had swollen very much on hearing of your troubles. 
But your news was so bitter that I could not taste the 
sweetness of the wine. However this morning I found 
it sweet, and I thank you for it. 

"Last night and this morning I remembered you and 
offered to Jesus your body, soul and heart, your memory, 
understanding and will. They are like six water pots and 
I implored Him to change their water into wine. I prayed 
that, as wine purifies and preserves, so your mind may be 



1 86 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

purified from all that disturbs it and your good will pre 
served by means of good works. I beg of you to be likewise 
mindful of me and to pray for me. 

"I commend myself to you, and so does Mother Prioress. 
Mother Margherita and Sister Maddalena also wish to be 
remembered to you, and the latter sends a greeting likewise 
to her Toto.* 

" I think I will send Niccolino to see you, for I shall 
not be happy until I hear that you are well after your 
misadventures. 

"Trato, Jan. 6, 1561." 

A prop os of this conviction that "we shall be judged for 
for our indiscretions," Catherine tries to restrain Salviati 
from what was clearly an exaggerated tendency to austerities, 
in other passages of her letters. She says once, for instance, 
" Religious, who live separated from the world, having 
neither business nor family obligations, are bound to lead 
a much more mortified and rigorous life than others. But 
you, who, being the head of a great house, have the care of 
a family upon you, ought to be very prudent about preserv 
ing your life and health: not for the sake of enjoying the 
pleasures of this world, but that you may properly support 
your family and train up your children as true Christians." 

And, again, she writes: "Now that you are at Florence, 
I fear nobody will think of giving you broth and biscuit for 
supper; and therefore I send you a basket of chestnuts, so 
that you may eat at least four every evening. I would remind 
you that Jesus wishes us to keep the mean, not the extreme, in 
our lives; and to use reasonable human methods of preserv 
ing health. . . . We are not to aim at dying but at living 
to do good, and so to honour and glorify God in ourselves. 

" I understand that you go to hear sermons and like 
them. I wish that instead of going for them to St Peter s 

* We are not told in the correspondence who "Toto" is, but he doubtless must have 
been Salviati s son Antonio, then a boy. He and his brother, Averardo, inherited their 
parents intimacy with Catherine, and some of her letters to them, after Filippo s death, 
are preserved. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 187 

you would come here. But I should not like the distance to 
be a trouble to you, only an additional merit. If you came 
here we might meet when it was convenient. I look forward 
to the day when we shall see each other, not at St Peter s, 
nor here, nor at Florence nor Prato, but in heaven, in the 
fruition of Jesus and His holy Mother and the whole 
celestial court. 
"Feb. 12, 1561." 

" I have received your most welcome letter, or rather, 
your two most welcome letters. It gave me great pleasure to 
hear of your well-being and to know that one of my desires 
had been accomplished, which Sister Bernarda had also 
thought of. Yesterday when at table the gospel of St Mat 
thew was being read, we came to the passage in which a poor 
woman puts a mite into the treasury of the Temple wherein 
all the rich people had some days before placed contribu 
tions, according to their means, either as alms or as tribute 
money. Our Lord, turning to the crowd tells them that the 
poor woman alone shall have a reward because she has given 
of her necessity and parted with her all, whereas the rest 
have contributed out of their abundance. When 1 heard this 
sentence I at once thought of my father, and wondered how 
our Saviour s praise might be bestowed also on him. And 
now, to my great joy, I see by your letters that my desire 
has been actually fulfilled, for the supply of wood has been 
such an expense to you as to put you to great inconvenience. 
O my dear little widow ! how delighted was I to see that 
Jesus had not suffered my father, like the rest, to place his 
superfluities in the treasury, but, in order that his work 
should not be vain, had allowed him, with the widow, to 
give of his necessity ! Thus, my dear little widow, you 
will share the reward of the widow in the gospel, and this, 
had you given of your abundance, you could not have done. 
See, dear father, how God allows all things for the best: He 
has permitted you to find this wood, and knowing that you 
would willingly make an offering to His treasury, He has 
suffered you to feel this inconvenience in order that you 
may have greater merit. These, my father, are mysteries at 



1 88 ST CATHERINE DE RICC1 

which you ought to rejoice. God will not fail to repay you an 
hundredfold in heaven, and even here, and I beg of Him to 
allow you to gain in some other way that so it maybe evident 
that He intends you to do this work and to build for Him 
this house wherein He will, in the most Blessed Sacrament, 
abide for ever, and be honoured by unceasing prayer. I do 
not think you could do anything more pleasing to Him, 
especially as, in addition to this work, you have made so 
many improvements in the whole house. 

" When you say that God would not allow David to 
finish His temple, you must remember that those were 
matters wherein Holy Scripture had to be fulfilled. I hope 
that David will not trouble you, but that my dear little 
widow will be of good cheer, and that we may always be able 
to give to Jesus, not out of our abundance, but with our 
whole heart. Who would ever have thought that my beloved 
father and son would have had this example ? You believed 
yourself to be a shepherd, andlo, you are likewise a widow. 
Jesus does all things for your good, and, because He desires 
you to be wholly His own, and gives you opportunities of 
doing His work for His sake, in order, at last, to give to 
you in return that beautiful palace in heaven which the 
apostle Thomas promised to a certain king. I rejoice and 
have rejoiced at all that has happened, not because I wish 
you to be put to inconvenience, but because in this matter 
I recognize, in a manner that fills me with gladness, the 
goodness of God, for which I thank Him. I will conclude, 
as it is six o clock in the evening and the sun is excessively 
hot. . . . Sister Bernarda desires, together with Sister Mad- 
dalena, to be remembered to you; and the latter also thanks 
you for your advice and sympathy, and sends a greeting. 

"June 10, 1561." 

Written to Valdimarina^ where the sisters and girls from San 
Vincenzio were then staying 

"I have received your welcome letter, but did I not think 
that there was some of your sister Bernarda s mischief in it 
I should be vexed at it. To tell you the truth I do not be- 



AND HER COMMUNITY 189 

lieve that you mean what you say when you tell me of such 
grievances, for I know that I never more heartily wished 
you well than I do now and I have never had a moment s 
disturbance on account of you. It seems to me that you have 
done more for our brethren than their own father would 
have done. Now as I know that my feeling towards you 
has not changed, but is as undoubted as when I impressed 
upon you the duty of desiring to please our Lord and to be 
wholly His, I would fain think that in what you say you 
are speaking not in earnest but in jest. . . . But, my father, 
if you should indeed have such an idea in your head, I beg 
of you to dismiss it, for it is utterly groundless. God knows 
how heartily I wish you well and how constantly I pray to 
the holy angels and to your guardian angel to give you a 
place in heaven. But if you have any doubt on the subject 
they will make all clear to you during this festival. When 
my dear father was alive I do not think that I ever forgot 
him or ever thought of him without wishing him this same 
happiness. Jesus has given you to me to be to me both father 
and son, could I be so mistaken as to esteem lightly that 
which it has taken me so many years to obtain from God ? 
Would such be your conduct ? I think not ; and, even were 
you to act so, I most certainly should not. Never will I let 
go of your soul; be sure of that, my naughty friend. This 
must suffice without an oath, for I must not be long as I 
have taken Sister Bernarda away from the washing,* and 
she says that the sun is very hot, for it is late, ten o clock 
already. 

"I am happy to hear that the sisters and the children are 
well, for I love them as long as they are good. I am still 
more glad that you are sending them back to-morrow or the 
next day. I shall regret it very much if, as I fear, they have 
given you trouble. You have an opportunity of sending 
them to me and you will see how gladly I shall make the 
exchange. Say this to Mona Maria, and make my excuses 
to her for sending her such a number at a time, as if she had 
not children enough already. I thank both you and her for 
the very great enjoyment which you have given them. . . . 

* i.e., to write for her: Sister Bernarda acted sometimes as the saint s secretary. 



1 9 o ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

Mother Prioress and Mother M. Maddalena desire to be re 
membered to you: they say that Toto must not be left behind. 
"I would have sent Salvadore with the mule for the 
children, but as you forbid me to do so I will obey you. I 
will expect them at the hour you mention. . . . Farewell. 
"September 24, 1561." 

In reply to some spiritual troubles, and doubts about his salvation, 
communicated to her by Filippo. . . . 

" I would remind you, my dear Father, that when the 
man who owned io,coo talents asked his Master to forgive 
his debt, he did not beg the favour for 9,000 only, but for 
the whole sum. If this debtor had not acted afresh with hard 
ness and cruelty he would have had nothing to fear about 
the past debt, as it had been fully and freely remitted; and 
his Lord would have been actually offended if the servant 
had not believed simply in the pardon granted to him. . . . 
Hence I conclude that, although it be a great error to count 
presumptuously on oneself, we nevertheless greatly offend 
the mercy and goodness of God by distrust. We know 
that He is very generous: that He became man and suffered 
a painful passion and death to deliver us from all anxiety 
as to our salvation; and that, by these acts, He has opened 
heaven to us, provided we do not ourselves turn in the 
opposite direction. In the latter case, there can be no un 
certainty, as most assuredly he who does not act according 
to the law of Jesus cannot reach heaven, any more than a 
man who takes the road to Pistoja when he wants to go to 
Florence can expect to arrive at Florence ! But, so long as 
he takes one of the three roads that lead to Florence even 
though he may find he has taken the worst one, with a good 
many bad bits that will hinder him if he gives his horse 
the rein and goes on steadily, he may expect certainly to get 
there at last. So one may find in the right way to heaven 
many hindrances that are serious obstacles; but for these 
there is the remedy given by Jesus : namely, to walk by the 
light that will lead us safely, and that light is holy faith. If 
we will only walk with our eyes fixed on this, we shall see 
before us a road, clear, level, beautiful, and very pleasant to 



AND HER COMMUNITY 191 

walk upon; shaded, too, by the green leaves of hope, planted 
with the flowers of holy longings, and abounding in the fruits 
of good works. By following this road, we shall go straight 
to our true home. Hence, whoever yields to fear or dread 
on this way insults his Lord and Master, or that Master s 
representative who acts as His guarantee. Of course, when 
you say that you have kept back something to tell me >/># 
>0, I am writing partly in the dark; but I can safely assure 
you that, when we have once plunged thoroughly into that 
fiery furnace [of sorrow and penance] all our spots and stains 
are consumed. . . . What use is it then, dear Father, to be 
afraid ? Of what use, I repeat, except to make us lose time 
on the way, and walk with but little fervour towards Jeru 
salem. So let us drive away fear, and put in its stead holy 
hope : but a hope without presumption, and founded on the 
goodness of God, not on our own merits. 
"October 2, 1561." 

Written to Valdimarina 

"I know that Sister Maria Maddalena has written fully 
to you about me in the letter which she sent you this morn 
ing by a labourer. She has told you that my fever came 
on last evening with great intensity, accompanied by head 
ache and violent sweating. It lasted all night until past seven 
this morning, but to-day I seem to be better than I was on 
Friday morning. Now however it is nearly nine o clock in 
the evening and I am beginning to have the same inflam 
mation that I had last night. I do not know whether it is 
a symptom of the return of my fever. But it is a slight thing, 
and I am in good hopes that by the help of Jesus I shall 
soon be well, especially if you will come to see me when you 
can. One good sign of my improvement is that whereas 
hitherto I have not been able to think of anything con 
nected with my work, I am to-day building little castles in 
the air about flax spinning. Sister Maddalena laughs and 
tells me that a doctor told her in another illness of mine 
that when I began to think about certain things it was a sign 
that nature was beginning to be freed from sickness and to 
return to its normal state. I tell you this for your satisfac- 



192 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

tion, and because I do not wish you to be any longer uneasy 
about me. 

" I am glad that Antonio * gave you so much satisfaction. 
As you have been sitting up so late (and I guessed as much) 
I was wise to send to you this morning to bid you go to bed 
early to-night. 

" I, my dear father, am kept under such strict obedience 
that sometimes I lift up my head a little to see whether I be 
alive at all. I could get up and go about but I cannot succeed 
in doing it. I assure you that if theBolognese honey changed 
its flavour as much as my mother has changed, apothecaries 
would no longer sell it as sweet or even as half sweet. If I am 
ever dispensed from this rigorous obedience I shall think 
myself fortunate. For pity s sake do not make my mother 
more despotic with me than she already is, for she is very 
masterful and I can no longer send her to supper nor to bed. 
She will have nothing of the sort, and merely answers: You 
must obey your father, and thus shuts my mouth so that I 
can say no more. For my further comfort she has even in 
duced the doctor to say that I am not to be in my cell. Now 
if you will help me with your prayers, I hope that soon I shall 
do as much as you tell me, to be avenged if not on the doctor 
at least on my mother. 

"Sister Valeria and the other nuns thank you for the 
chick-peas. There are plenty of them because they mix well 
with other vegetables: they furnish a dessert. 

"To-morrow at Mass (for I hear it from my bed) I shall 
not fail to remember you and to commend you to Jesus and 
to those two holy apostles f who will, I hope, be with you 
when you go to the coming fair. My greetings to you and to 
Mona Maria. . . . 

"Thank you for the pears, and the honey, and the grapes: 
you do too much for me. Sister Bernarda does not think it 
worth while to write. She never leaves me save to write to 
you; she bids me remember her to you. 

"October 27, 1561." 



* Antonio Gondi, of whom an account will be found in a later chapter. 
t SS. Simon and Jude, whose feast is October 28. The saint seems to use the word 
fair" here in spiritual sense, for a religious festa. 






AND HER COMMUNITY 193 

" I could not tell you with what great pleasure I received 
your most welcome letter ! Never fear the gifts and graces 
that Jesus bestows on you, but accept them all with joy. 
They are a foretaste of what is prepared in heaven for men 
of good will, amongst whom my dear son must be. So do 
not be troubled: go on, with your heart given simply to God, 
in all humility and uprightness. As for me, unworthy: I 
thank God, who has shown you the need of overcoming 
that enemy who always lingers about us, and who would 
have disturbed this happy state of things if he could ; but, 
thanks to our Lord who chose to confirm your progress in 
good, he has not had the strength to do so ! 

"It gives me the deepest satisfaction to know that during 
that night you were inspired with the right thing to do, and 
that you will carry out the thought; for it is an exceedingly 
great merit to obey God in His good inspirations ; and, by this 
act, you may have gained more than the whole finite world 
is worth, in one treasure of the infinite world to come. We 
cannot gain these by our own power, but only by a grace 
from God. . . . He has made us out of nothing, has re 
deemed us by the gift of Himself, and unceasingly redeems 
us over again from our daily sins. And this should not 
frighten us, but fill us with supreme joy and make us praise 
His name more and more .... Oh, my dear father, be 
joyful ! Make yourself, by means of these gifts, a freeman 
of the heavenly city, whose inhabitants will honour, help 
and defend you : even as a beggar may buy himself a citizen 
ship, and an honourable position,with the money gratuitously 
bestowed on him by a king. Ah, how happy I feel about 
you to-day ! . . . . 
"November 7, 1561." 

The church of San Vincenzio was finished in October, 
1563, and solemnly consecrated on the 23rd of that month. 
Filippo then added other buildings to the convent in 
cluding a small room in the out-portion for himself which 
carried on the work for two years more. When all these 
grand constructions were seen in their completeness, the 
public became curious as to how much they had cost, and 

13 



i 9 4 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

his wondering fellow-citizens tried in every way to entrap 
him into telling their price. All that they could get out of 
him, however, was that cc he did not care for such things to 
be known to man: it was enough if they were clear to 
Him who would reward them." Cosmo de Medici wejl 
acquainted of old with his Cousin Salviati s stinginess 
is reported to have said a propos of these buildings, "that 
one of the greatest miracles which made him believe in the 
high sanctity of Mother Catherine, was her having been 
able to get Filippo to be so liberal to her convent." 

But of the far greater miracle of Salviati s inward con 
version, and rapid attainment of spiritual perfection under 
the saint s guidance, the world could of course have but 
very little knowledge or appreciation; though it was to some 
extent made outwardly apparent by his ever-increasing in 
difference to all the splendours and luxuries of his former 
life, and love of spending all the time he could in the little 
cell attached to the convent, where he had barely common 
comforts. Here he would go whenever he could get the 
leisure, rather than to any of his country villas, for change 
and refreshment; and here, as his life drew to a close, he 
would hold higher and higher intercourse on the things of 
God with the saint and her holy companions. He came at 
last to have so great a longing for the sight of God, that 
he used to speak of the rapid failure of his health as a 
traveller towards home speaks of the favourable conditions 
of his voyage, and of the loved ones that he is expecting 
to see on landing. Shortly before he died, he wrote to Sister 
Jacopa Cini: "I am departing post-haste; and I am trusting, 
by the grace of Jesus Christ, and with the help of the most 
blessed Virgin and the saints of Paradise, to make a holy 
death. I hope at last to be well received by Him who was 
shown to me in vision at Mayano, with the promise that 
He would one day be my reward." * 

Filippo Salviati died in 1572; and he and his wife (the 
date of whose death is not forthcoming) were both buried 
under the high altar of the church at San Vincenzio, as he 
had requested in his lifetime. 

* Seraf. Razzi, lib. I, cap. x, p. 36. Mayano was a place where Salviati had made a 
stay shortly before he went to Prato in 1557, and where he is said to have had a vision 
of our Lord to encourage him in his resolution of helping the community. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 195 



CHAPTER XV 

St Catherine and her Brothers Correspondence with Ridolfo and Vin- 
cenzio Visit of the Bavarian Prince to Prato Prophecy of the 
miraculous Escape of St Charles Borromeo. 

IT is time now to show how Catherine, amidst her many 
labours natural and supernatural for her community and 
the general public, was regularly keeping up close inter 
course with such members of her own family as were left 
to her. These became very few in number long before her 
own death. We have seen how she lost the most valued of 
her relations by the death of her holy uncle, Timoteo, just as 
she became prioress; and by 1555 she had closed the eyes 
of the last of those three young sisters whose early deaths 
as Religious have been already recorded. The only sister 
then left to her was Maria Benigna, often referred to in her 
letters, for whom she appears to have had a special affection, 
and of whom it is said that besides being an extremely 
holy young nun of great promise to the Order, she showed 
in a high degree St Catherine s peculiar power of comfort 
ing people in trouble. However, she was no more destined 
than her younger sisters to complete her career: she sickened 
and died in the year 1562, while the new church was in 
progress; and the story of her death is also that of a mira 
culous occurrence, exemplifying a power exercised by the 
saint at times over her dying children for some special pur 
pose. Catherine happened, that year, to be sub-prioress, and 
was exceedingly anxious that a double clothing, to take place 
on April 12, should go off with all the cheerfulness that she 
loved on such occasions. Sister M. Benigna was so near 
death on that morning that the shadow of her departure 
seemed likely to be cast over the day, when her holy sister 
and superior came to her bedside and commanded her, in the 
name of our Lord, not to die until the ceremony was over. 
The dying young nun humbly promised obedience, and 



196 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

was actually enabled supernaturally to keep her soul from 
departing till the clothing was over. Then the saint, freed 
from other duties, hastened back to her sister, gave her leave 
to die, and, entering into ecstasy as was her wont beside 
her dying children, accompanied the beloved soul on its last 
journey. 

After thus losing her last sister, Catherine had only left 
out of her large family (for other brothers and sisters had 
died as children or young people) an uncle and four brothers. 
The uncle was Federigo de Ricci, of whom we have heard 
so much in the saint s correspondence with her father. He 
was a man of importance in Florence, frequently holding 
public offices; and his niece Catherine was specially dear to 
him, so that he was always glad both to help her community, 
and to give her his support in family matters. He was self- 
willed, however, and somewhat hot-tempered rather like 
her own father in character which made things at times 
no easier between him and Ridolfo than they had been in 
earlier days between the latter and old Pierfrancesco. 

Besides Ridolfo there remained Fiammetta s three sons: 
Giovanbatista, now the holy friar Fra Timoteo, who was 
ever the saint s great stay, and who lived till within a few 
years of her own death; Roberto the banker, of whom not 
much seems to be known, though a few important letters 
to him remain; and lastly Vincenzio, youngest of the whole 
family. This half-brother was the darling of Catherine s 
heart and the child of her adoption. Born only a few months 
before his father s death, he was but four years old when he 
lost his mother; and his eldest sister did her best to replace 
both parents by undertaking the entire charge of his keep 
and education. Before giving more of his history, however, 
we must go back some years, to give that of the turbulent 
Ridolfo, whose former escapades will not have been forgotten. 

For ten years after his father s death this hot-headed 
youth went on in much the same way that he had begun 
always more or less in trouble, and giving endless anxiety 
and scandal to his relations. Then he became a Knight of 
Malta, which they hoped would steady him. He had no lack 
of personal courage; and in his first engagement with the 



AND HER COMMUNITY 197 

Turks he gained his spurs by some desperate righting, at 
the same time being severely wounded. This feat delighted 
his uncle, who wrote the news to Catherine; and here is her 
letter on the subject: 

To Fra Ridolfo de Ricci: Cavaliere di Malta 

" My dearest brother, greeting ! It is some months since 
I wrote to you. I have received no reply, so I suppose that 
either your letter or mine has miscarried. And to-day I heard 
from our honoured Federigo of the injury which you have 
sustained from the two arquebuses. I am, as you may ima 
gine, exceedingly grieved at it, because it sounds very 
serious, and must have caused, and perhaps still causes you, 
severe pain. I try to think that God has permitted it for 
some good end; and, now that you have become a soldier, 
wills to purify you for His service and chooses that by means 
of some penance, such as this, you should cancel the debt 
which in time past you have contracted against His divine 
goodness. Perhaps as you have to defend His holy Faith, 
God may will you to fight so much the more manfully for 
having done this penance, and will be the better pleased 
with your service in proportion as you are more completely 
purified. Perhaps, too, He has allowed you to be wounded 
in order that you may be more fully conformed to Him, 
your Captain, who goes before you to prepare a place which 
shall be yours if you follow Him courageously. Do not, 
then, let it seem to you too great a hardship to travel along 
the strait path which He has traced out. And, should it 
please His goodness to deprive you of bodily strength to 
fight, fight so much the more bravely with your spiritual 
powers which is none the less acceptable than our bodily 
activities, provided that it be not our fault that we do not 
do exterior work. Strengthen your soul, dear brother, with 
these considerations which are all of them true; and remem 
ber that I constantly think of you with sympathy, and never 
fail to pray and to obtain prayers for you, and that I desire 
extremely to hear how you are at present. If you do not 
come here on your way to Padua (whither you tell me your 
doctors wish you to go) write me two lines; and, above all, 



i 9 8 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

my dear brother, resign yourself entirely to God in all things. 
Let Him be your only hope, your only good; offer yourself 
to Him in every circumstance, for I desire that you should 
be wholly His. Indeed you must be His, and so must all 
others who desire to possess eternal life, to which may He 
in His mercy lead us ! Our sisters are well. Sister Philippa, 
who was Lena in the world, only went to heaven at the 
beginning of last October. They all pray for you and desire 
to be remembered to you. May the Lord keep you in His 
grace and preserve you from all evil ! 

"Your most affectionate sister, 

" SISTER CATHERINE DE RICCI. 
"January 13, 1552." 

However, though it sobered him at first, Ridolfo s new 
profession did not for a long time make much alteration in 
his way of life, and he continued a constant source of worry 
and sisterly care to the saint. The great supernatural gifts 
that made her often so powerful in converting others were 
absolutely ineffectual where her brothers were concerned 
for them she could but pray, weep and tenderly exhort, like 
any ordinary woman, for the most part in vain ! When the 
spell of righting which had roused him was over, and peace 
threw him into the fatal idleness of garrison life, the Cava- 
liere de Ricci became as much noted as before for wild ad ven 
tures that were not to his credit, so that poor Federigo 
began to long for war to break out again. In vain Ridolfo s 
holy sister wrote him the most affectionate letters: he hardly 
ever answered them; and, when passing near Prato in going 
from place to place, did not even condescend to stop and pay 
her a visit. When, after a year or two of indifference, he 
would write her a few lines, it would only be to beg her inter 
vention between him and his terrible uncle, who now 
bitterly displeased with him shut up his purse as well as 
his heart from the ill-conditioned nephew. Catherine, for 
giving as ever, would undertake the mission, and write her 
brother word of the result, usually unfavourable, as appears 
in the following letter: 

" On the whole it seems reasonable that I should com- 



AND HER COMMUNITY 199 

plain of you, since neither by letter nor by visits have I had 
any news of you; yet I excuse you, for I suppose that visiting 
or writing to nuns, especially your own sisters, must seem 
to you unnecessary, and waste of time. Still I do not cease 
to think of you always, praying God that it may please Him 
to keep you in the right and true way, and in that of His 
commandments ; and in this holy journey to Loretto may 
you have had so much grace from the Blessed Virgin that 
she may have taken you for her own, and may keep you safe 
for ever. This she will do, if you are well-disposed and take 
pains to live a good and regular life in your profession, and 
work for the honour and glory of God. And I do not doubt, 
if you do this, that you will have all that you desire. 

"As for what you ask from Federigo, as I have already 
written to Roberto, he is much displeased with you, and he 
thinks this departure of yours very strange, and is very angry, 
so that you will not obtain anything from him. But, as An 
tonio has already told you, in a short time he will become 
calmer, especially if he sees that you go on well ; for, loving 
uncle as he is, he will not fail in anything, the more so if 
you do not ask him; but you must have patience. In the 
meantime, go on your journey, and follow the advice of 
Antonio, which is the same as that of Fra Timoteo and of 
Marcello, and be cheerful, for in the end you will be satis 
fied. But you must have a little patience and compassion 
with the old man, who loves you well, though he has con 
ceived great displeasure with you, as has been said, because 
you and Roberto remained here to finish your affairs (about 
whose success I know nothing). But let this be as God 
pleases, and I have good hope that our Lord will help you, 
if you are good. I commend myself to you always, as does 
also Sister Maria Benigna. May God preserve you in good 
health, and may His grace go with you. 

"July 17, I559-" 

Thus warned, Ridolfo would keep out of his uncle s way 
for a time and make no requests; but he soon got tired of 
waiting passively and would again worry his sister to inter 
cede for him : sometimes under the pretext that he was 



200 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

anxious for news of her, to which Catherine on one occasion 
naively replies: "You surprise me, for since you left I have 
written to you every month ! " Sometimes he would try to 
make her believe in him by excuses that touched her heart; 
but she always really knew his motives in keeping up with 
her, and all her letters contain reference to it. Thus, she 
writes one day: "Every time I get the opportunity I recom 
mend you to Uncle Federigo. I am sure he will do what he 
has promised some day, but you know he has so many things 
to think of that he cannot do everything at once." Again : 
" Uncle Federigo came to see me the other day, and I did 
not fail to speak to him about you. He is always well-disposed 
to help you: but you know him even better than I do. Wait, 
and don t lose courage ! " 

However, a time came when Ridolfo lost all patience, 
and wrote word to his sister that he intended to come from 
the place where he was stationed to Florence, and there to 
come face to face with his uncle out of whom he had not 
got a word or a penny for two years and call him to 
account for not keeping his promises. Now, such a pro 
ceeding would finally ruin him with the authorities, as one 
of the gravest complaints against him was that of his con 
stantly coming privately to the capital to amuse himself 
with his boon companions instead of attending to his duties: 
and this, though he was now forty years old, and expected 
to maintain the honour and dignity of his military order 
as a mature man. It was partly the knowledge of this low 
public estimation in which his nephew was coming to be 
held that so inflamed Federigo s anger and hardened his 
heart; and Catherine s alarm was extreme when she heard 
of this rash intention of her brother s to come and openly 
put himself into collision with their uncle and with others 
of weight. She therefore gave him her mind freely on the 
subject: 

"As it is so long since I have had news of you, I tell 
you truly, that when this evening I had your letter of the 
1 9th ultimo in my hand, I felt quite happy in reading it. 
I do not wish to complain of you in anything, for that 
would give me pain also; yet though I was pleased with the 



AND HER COMMUNITY 201 

beginning, at the end I felt displeased when you say: I shall 
see you again soon. If you are coming to ask for help and 
a gratuity from my uncle and others, do not take this step, 
because I can tell you that it will have the contrary effect, 
and be against your good, in many ways. I am sorry he has 
not performed what he promised; but I tell you that your 
presence will only inflame the wound, and what you think 
will be quite otherwise. And I tell you plainly, that if you 
take this step, you must take care not to appear before 
Federigo, nor the others; this for certain; and, my brother, 
consider and ponder well all these things. Act according to 
the light of reason, for I know that if you make use of this 
light you will find that you must not resolve upon that 
step; and this I tell you plainly and absolutely, because 
I know what I am saying. And I know you to have sense 
enough to consider well what you are doing. It is not right 
in things of importance to be guided by your will only, but 
to act with prudence, and always to think of the conse 
quences of our acts for ourselves and for others. And 
perhaps you do not know all; but I, who know very well, 
tell you that you must put this journey out of your head, 
and not undertake it; and I repeat that if any one had the 
wish to do you any good, this would be the very thing to 
prevent it. Think, dear brother, that I am your sister, and 
love you, our Lord knows how much, and to Him I com 
mend you whenever I can. I will never fail to help you 
when I can; but be wise, and live in the fear of God, for 
if you do so, I am sure that He will never forsake you; on 
the contrary, I have a firm hope in His most holy aid, if 
you will be what a Christian ought to be. And please, when 
you write, do not speak of things so openly, for it will not 
help us. May God be with you always. 
"January 28, 1560." 

Her arguments for his own benefit prevailed. Ridolfo 
did not come to Florence; and from this time forth seems 
to have begun doing more honour to his profession by 
keeping out of any very serious scrapes. In 1566, when 
war again broke out with the Turks, and he could once 

O 



202 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

more take part in active military duties, the rough life, the 
fighting, and the suffering from further wounds that he got, 
worked by degrees a complete change in his character; and 
Catherine s faithful love and care were at last rewarded by 
her brother s true conversion. In 1569 he evidently wrote 
her some account of his good resolutions, to which the 
following is an answer: 

"A few days ago I received by the hand of Fabbruzzi 
your most welcome letter of September 7, which reminds 
me that I had another from you still earlier from Palermo. 
I replied to it at length, and sent again some fine cord by 
means of Vincenzio, which I think you must have had. 
This letter of yours gave me great pleasure to see that you 
are so well disposed to do the will of God, and take pains 
not to offend Him. I thank Him for giving you such good 
dispositions, and pray earnestly that He will give you help 
and perseverance in well-doing. And believe me, dearest 
brother, that you are always in my thoughts more than 
any one else in this world, as you ought to be; for are we 
not alone, you and I ? I desire that we may meet again in 
paradise, and I pray God earnestly that it may be so, and 
do you pray the same for me, as I have said before. I have 
always had your love and affection, for which may our Lord 
reward you, and may He give us grace to be His good 
servants, so that in another life we may be near Him and 
enjoy eternal good. I commend myself to you. May God 
keep you in His holy grace, and deliver you from all evil. 
"December 22, 1569." 

At the beginning of the next year she writes: 

"I have your very kind letter of Jan. 27, from which I 
am happy to learn that you are well, peaceful and contented, 
with the hope of better things, and that you may return one 
day to your native land. I pray that God may grant us this 
grace, if it be for the good of our souls. I am grieved that your 
leg still causes you inconvenience, besides other indisposi 
tions; it is in these ways our Lord teaches us that in this life 
we can never be free from trials. I pray continually that of 



AND HER COMMUNITY 203 

His infinite goodness it may please Him to give you health 
to do always His holy will. I thank you for the alms sent 
in your name, for which I pray that God may reward you for 
us, for it is very kind and loving of you. Yesterday Vincenzio 
came here and gave me the said alms; he told me that he was 
very happy in hoping soon to be married. I am glad that you 
have warned him, and certainly he seems inclined to do what 
is right. He let me read the letter you wrote to him, and by 
this I learned your troubles. Be patient and place everything 
in the hands of our Lord. I am delighted that your Prince is 
pleased to do you the benefit of repairing the church under 
your guardianship ; it is a great grace and very useful with all 
it has cost you this year, which you say is a sum of fifty scudi 
(crowns). With this you will do much good in honour of our 
Lord, and I pray that all you have to spend may be given 
you at once, for the expenses will be very great. I think you 
have a great deal to thank God for, from whom proceed all 
good things, and for the good will, as I am sure you have, to 
be a good Christian. May His goodness grant you this grace 
for which I pray earnestly, bearing you always in mind, and 
whenever I can praying for you. I commend myself to you, 
and again I thank you. May our Lord make you all His own. 
" March 5, 1570." 

A word must now be said of Vincenzio the " Benja 
min" of the de Ricci family whose engagement comes out 
in the above letter. Whilst he remained a child, Catherine 
placed him to be brought up with people over whom she 
herself could exercise surveillance, and found no difficulty 
in keeping him under control. But, growing up, she natu 
rally felt that he must have a stronger hand over him than 
hers, and she put him under the charge of her friend and 
" spiritual son," the Antonio Gondi of whom we have heard 
in her letters to Salviati. Vincenzio got on quietly at first 
with his guardian; but, when he was about sixteen, got for a 
time into a rebellious stage, showing signs of an inclination 
to follow his elder half-brother s example; and his motherly 
sister found it necessary to bring all the weight of her love 
and authority combined to bear upon the delinquent. Her 



204 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

own letters to him give the simplest history of this little 
episode: 

To her Brother Vincen%w de* Ricci 

" Dearest brother, greeting, The affection I bear you, 
and the hope I have in you, has caused me great displeasure 
on account of what Antonio (Gondi) has told me of your 
behaviour. He came here to tell me deliberately that he can 
no longer take care of you, for he has not the heart to suffer 
your conduct, and begs me to excuse him. Considering your 
best interests, I begged him so hard that he has promised me 
to have patience a little longer, to see whether you amend 
your ways. This has caused me no little grief, assuring me, 
as he did, that he could suffer it no longer. Really, my dear 
brother, I did not expect this of you, for I had earnestly 
entreated the master to take you, and Antonio to look after 
you, and teach you every virtue. He has taken much trouble 
that you should learn something, and now you do so little 
honour to him and to me. The consequence will be the harm 
you will do yourself, for if you lose this opportunity, con 
sider in what condition you will be, and where you will go. 
Poor boy! it seems to me that you are greatly wanting in 
judgement. And if you will not pay attention to Antonio nor 
to me, at least you will have to think of yourself. But not 
living in the fear of God, as you ought to do, I think will 
be the cause of every evil. I hope in any case you will cor 
rect yourself; and first, that you will live as a good Christian 
and leave aside these follies that you seem inclined to 
indulge in. And now that we are in Lent, I wish that you 
should get up early and hear holy Mass and a sermon, then 
attend to the duties imposed on you, and do them will 
ingly, and not as by force; and do not fail in obedience to 
Antonio. And when you wish for leave of absence, ask it 
of him and not of the master. For although the latter may 
give it you, do not take it against his will (Antonio s), for 
he does it for your good, though you do not know it, for 
you are inclined to certain boyish tricks which will be your 
ruin. And your wearing certain vanities, I should like you 
to tell me if they belong to you, who have nothing in the 



AND HER COMMUNITY 205 

world! For God s sake, my brother, do not run into such 
errors, for I know you will soon repent of them. Force your 
self to live as a good youth in the sight of Jesus. Regulate 
all according to Christian rules, and to the promises you 
have made; doing this, you will be a pleasure to us and of 
use to yourself. Be careful also not to say one thing for an 
other, nor to make excuses for yourself, for if you do your 
duty you will not seek to shield yourself with lies, but will 
go on doing everything in sincerity and truth, for God sees 
all things. And if you do as Antonio tells you, it will be 
good for him and for you. Do so that when he returns here, 
he will speak well of you, otherwise I can see that your 
affairs will have a bad ending. And do not take it ill that 
I write thus to you; the affection I have for you induces me 
to give you the necessary warning. May God move your 
heart to do your duty. I commend myself to you, as does 
also Sister Benigna. May God preserve you in His grace. 
"Feb. 24, 1560." 

" I have received your welcome letter, by which I learn 
that you and all at home are well. I have also received your 
kind gifts of charity; may our Lord reward you, and we all 
thank you. With all my heart I pray that you may be good, 
and may fear God; for if you do this all things else will go 
well. And I beg of you to be obedient to Antonio, who only 
wishes to be kind to you, more than you think. And if it 
appears tiresome to you that he does not wish you to go 
into the country on feast-days, when you think you have 
nothing to do, I may tell you that he is not wrong in this, 
many things falling to him, which makes it necessary that 
one person should remain in case of need that might arise; 
the more so that, the master being ill, you might have to 
visit him three or four times in the day. Besides, you should 
not neglect vespers and prayers, or to read some good book; 
and if you did this the timewould pass without your perceiv 
ing it. And I should like you to keep in your study some 
book of devotion; read it frequently; and if you practise 
these things, Jesus will be always with you and will help 
you, and will make all your affairs prosper. Also I wish that 



206 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

you should take care of that Spanish boy and conduct him 
to the places mentioned by Antonio. Obey him, as I have 
said, in all things, and he will do well by you; if you separate 
from him, you may be sure you will do wrong and will not 
find any one else to care for you. Therefore, my dear brother, 
do me the pleasure to behave well, that I may have good 
accounts of you; otherwise you will displease me greatly, 
more than I can tell you. However, I have good hope that 
you will be a comfort to me, seeing that I desire only your 
good. I never fail to pray for you, and for all those at home. 
May our Lord preserve you in His grace and keep you 
from all harm. I commend myself to you. Your sister, etc. 
"June i, 1561." 

Vincenzio rewarded the saint s care by growing into a 
good man, and a most useful and prominent citizen. He 
married the "Cassandra" above referred to a cousin of the 
family in 1571; and both he and his wife are frequently 
mentioned in Catherine s further letters to Ridolfo. These 
letters, however, are not of special interest: they show the 
Cavaliere to have remained faithful to his promises of a re 
formed life, to have kept up intercourse with both his half- 
brothers and their families (as it is mentioned once that he 
goes to stay in the country with Roberto and his wife), and 
to have suffered more or less from bad health to the end of 
his days. He died twelve years before Catherine: at what 
place is not mentioned; but, from the last two letters that 
we give of the family correspondence, it was clearly some 
where close to whichever Dominican Priory his younger 
brother, the friar, then happened to be inhabiting: so that 
poor Ridolfo had every loving, as well as spiritual, care on 
his death-bed. 

To Vincenzio de Ricci 

" Your letter, informing me of the illness of the Cava 
liere, is a great sorrow to me. I fear that an affection of the 
chest in his bad state of health must be very serious, and I 
grieve both on his account and for your sake. If the doctor 
should pronounce him to be in danger I beg of you with all 
my heart to prepare him for all the holy sacraments, so that, 



AND HER COMMUNITY 207 

when his hour shall come, he may depart in due dispositions. 
Tell Fra Timoteo from me to use the utmost care about 
this matter and not to put it off till the end, for it will do 
the sick man no harm but rather good. I conjure you to 
attend to these two points. Remember me to Fra Timoteo. 
I am not writing to him now as I want to despatch this letter. 
I know that you will not fail to do anything that may restore 
the Cavaliere to health if such be the will of God. All the nuns 
and I are praying for him. Remember me to him : bid him 
be of good heart and commit himself wholly to God, who 
will assist him. Let him cheerfully resign himself to his Lord 
and patiently take the little suffering with which He is feast 
ing him. I commend myself to you, and to Cassandra. May 
God preserve you in His grace. 
"January 4, 1578." 

To the Same 

"Beloved brother : greeting. I have received your most 
agreeable letter, but it is with sorrow that I learn the con 
dition of our dearest brother, for from what you tell me 
and what I hear from the steward I think he must have 
already passed to another life. God grant that he may have 
done so in such a manner as we all desire, for I wish for 
nothing but his salvation, for which I entreat the Lord as 
earnestly as I can. He was our brother, we cannot but grieve 
to lose him. But we all have to look forward to the journey 
which he has made, and nothing remains for us but to be 
patient and resigned to the divine will. To this patience I 
exhort you, and I counsel you likewise to put all your affairs 
in good order. I will not grieve you further but will con 
clude. I commend myself to you and to Cassandra : may 
God keep you in His grace. 
"February 24, 1578." 

Strangely enough, during the years when St Catherine 
was thus humbly doing her best, with ordinary human 
means and slow success, to help her own family, she was 
twice brought strikingly into public notice by miraculous 
acts. The first time was in 1565, when the King of Bavaria 
sent his son to Prato, expressly to ascertain from personal 



208 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

observation the facts about the renowned "saint," and to 
recommend him and his kingdom to her prayers. Catherine 
had a great esteem for this king, who had kept faithful to 
the Catholic Church amidst so many German deserters; 
and, when she heard of his son s intended visit, prepared 
with much joy so to entertain him as to encourage and 
confirm his faith and his love of the Church, little guessing 
how she was destined to fulfil her intention. The young 
prince arrived at the convent on the feast of the Epiphany, 
and Mother Catherine came to the door to meet him. She 
was filled, at the moment, with thoughts of the great 
mystery they were celebrating ; and, beholding her royal 
visitor surrounded by a brilliant cortege of attendants and 
friends, she was suddenly rapt in spirit to Bethlehem, into 
the company of the Magi and their suite. When the prince 
came forward according to German custom to take her 
hand into his, the saint thought that one of the holy kings 
was receiving her amongst them, to take her with them to 
the crib. Thus, led by him and outwardly appearing to be 
doing the honours of her convent to the illustrious guest 
she went back into the house and conducted the company 
through it, with all eyes upon her; walking, in heart, 
amongst the Magi, etc., into the presence of the Infant 
Jesus. Her face was radiant, and her whole appearance 
showed an angelic modesty and beauty that commanded 
awe in her visitors; whilst her soul was filled with holy 
exaltation, and she uttered, in praise of the Divine Child, 
words of inexpressible tenderness and grace. The young 
prince was enraptured : never before had human voice 
spoken with such accents before him: never had his heart 
felt such deep and burning love for God. But he did not 
fully understand what he had seen and heard, until they 
told him afterwards that Mother Catherine had been in an 
ecstasy the whole time of his visit, and explained what 
invisible scene she had been inwardly contemplating whilst 
she had spoken these marvellous words. When he returned 
to his father s court, he was thus able to bear witness that 
the wonders of Prato surpassed anything reported of them, 
and to affirm that he had seen with his own eyes, and 



AND HER COMMUNITY 209 

beyond any doubt, how God shows forth His presence 
and power in the saints of the one true Church.* 

The second of these miraculous incidents happened four 
years later, and is associated with no less a person than St 
Charles Borromeo. A certain priest attached to the great 
cardinal-archbishop s court at Milan, named Agostino 
Guizelmi, and a native of Prato, never came there without 
giving himself the pleasure of a visit to the saint. He en 
joyed talking to her, not only because of the spiritual good 
that it brought him, but because each time he saw her he 
was able to make fresh observations on the marvellous 
virtues and the prodigies of grace that shone forth in her; 
and it delighted him, on his return to Milan, to rejoice 
the cardinal s heart by reporting it all to him. Mother 
Catherine, in her turn, loved to hear of St Charles s extra 
ordinary austerities, and of the wonderful works that he 
was then doing for the reform of his diocese, to the great 
edification of the whole Church. Hence there resulted a 
reciprocal affection and esteem between the two saints 
which the devout Guizelmi took keen pleasure in foster 
ing. Now, one day in the year 1569, as he was taking leave 
of Catherine on starting for Milan, she gave him a picture 
of the Ecce Homo to take to the cardinal, asking him to tell 
the latter not to pay much attention to the picture itself, 
which was badly done, but to Him whom it represented. 
She then added, prophetically, that this picture would de 
liver him a few days hence from a great peril, in the form 
of an attempt on his life, made out of hatred for his zeal in 
reforming abuses. St Charles received the picture with 
respect, and kept it carefully as Mother Catherine advised. 
A few days later, as he was saying night-prayers with his 
household in the archiepiscopal palace chapel, the well-known 
attempt on his life took place. The wretched assassin, who 
had been secretly let in, fired a gun straight at him, and 
he escaped death by a miracle; for the bullets, as though 
having lost their force on touching him, were found at his 
feet, and he remained unhurt. 

Three days afterwards the holy cardinal sent for Guizel- 

* Seraf. Razzi, lib. Ill, cap. ix, p. 125. 

14 



2IO 



ST CATHERINE DE RICC1 



mi, and made him say over again exactly what Catherine had 
said on giving him the picture. Seeing that every word of 
hers had come strictly true, he conceived a higher admiration 
for her than ever; and he had the precious picture finely 
framed and hung in his study, much to the surprise of some 
habitues of the palace, who could not imagine why a place of 
honour was given to so poor a work of art.* 

* Compendia, etc., Awertimento al Lettore, p. 25. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 211 



CHAPTER XVI 

Some Correspondence of St Catherine with Superiors of her Order The 
affair of Convent Enclosure 

AMONGST CATHERINE DE RICCI S correspondence there are a 
few letters to ecclesiastical superiors which must here find 
a place in extenso, as bringing out with striking vividness a 
side of her character which nothing could so well emphasize 
as her own words: namely, the strong moral courage that 
made her say what she thought, without fear or favour, when 
she felt it her duty to withstand even those of whom she 
might naturally be somewhat afraid; and that enabled her to 
carry out what she believed to be right in face of opposition 
which might cause her severe pain. 

This little group of letters to the general and provin 
cial of the Order, and the prior of the " Minerva" in Rome 
need a few preliminary words of explanation. 

The decrees of the Council of Trent for Church reform 
were just at this time being actively carried into execution. 
St Pius V, in his Apostolic Constitutions of 1 566 and 1569, 
had laid down that there should be no more convents of 
nuns except on condition of absolute enclosure. All monas 
teries of women making only " simple " vows and having 
only semi-enclosure like most of the Third Order commu 
nities were henceforth forbidden; and to members of 
those actually existing the bishops were ordered to give the 
choice of accepting complete enclosure, or of being released 
from their vows and returning to the world. Such was the 
law. The mode of its application in each case was left to 
the wisdom of prelates and superiors of the respective com 
munities. As the great object of the ordinance was simply 
the reform of abuses, it stood to reason that in the case of 
many fervent and regular communities too rigorous or hasty 
an application of it would have been very undesirable, as 
likely to upset and perhaps disband bodies which it was 



212 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

better for public edification to keep undisturbed. This was 
eminently the case with San Vincenzio at Prato; others the 
superiors of the Dominican Order, who were its ultimate 
governors had thought it prudent not to formally promul 
gate the pontifical decree there, but to get its requirements 
gradually and quietly accepted, by way of persuasion rather 
than of authority. 

However, in the year 1576, when it so happened that 
Mother Catherine had just begun a fresh term of office as 
prioress, St Pius V s successor, Gregory XIII, appointed 
apostolic commissioners to visit the Tuscan convents ex 
pressly to inquire into their observance of enclosure. At 
Prato, the sole thing contrary to the completeness of this rule 
was a door of communication between the sanctuary of the 
public church and the nuns choir. In view of the canonical 
visitation, the superiors of the Order thought best to have 
this door done away with, though without speaking to the 
nuns of "enclosure" merely putting it upon the ground 
that "it was not a suitable place" for an entrance. Now, it so 
happened that this could not be done without infringing 
the rights of a third party: namely, the sons of Salviati, to 
whom their father had bequeathed all his rights as "founder" 
of the church and new convent buildings. Catherine, there 
fore, before taking any action, wrote as follows to the Father 
General of the Order,* from whom the command to wall up 
the door had come whilst she was so ill that the nuns were 
afraid to worry her with the full contents of his letter till 
some time after its arrival : 

To the Father General Serajino Cavalli 

"Very Reverend Father-General, my dear father in 
Christ, greeting. Not until to-day, that we are at the thirtieth 
of May, has the news reached me of the contents of your 
Reverence s letter of the thirteenth of April last, which ar 
rived on the twenty-sixth; it was given tome that evening 

* Padre Serafmo Cavalli, a noted member of his Order. As "Master in Theology" he 
had taken part in the Council of Trent, and as a man of exemplary life was much respected. 
He was elected General of the whole Order in 1571, and held office for seven years, during 
which he visited the Priories of Spain, France and Flanders as well as of Italy. He died 
at Seville, in 1578, at 56 years old, in high repute for sanctity. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 213 

enclosed within another from Florence, where just then fever 
was raging, and I was very ill; and having at that time near 
me some of our mothers, I gave them the letters. I told 
them to read your Reverence s inside theirs, and to inform 
me of the contents; then they related to me the first part 
only. And I, who was seriously ill, believed that they had 
answered it, and thought no more about it; and they would 
say nothing, so that I should not be troubled. Now I am 
greatly displeased about the matter, and because the wishes 
of your Reverence have not been carried out, which has 
come as a crown to many other troubles at this time. But 
our Lord be praised, all this is little compared with my sins; 
with strange times are we oppressed ! They, that is, these 
mothers, told me that they had immediately written to 
Florence to Antonio Gondi, that he should ask leave of the 
Salviati. But now that 1 know, I will not neglect the wish 
of your Reverence; but 1 cannot carry it out at once, for 
I am still so weak that I cannot move myself nor leave my 
room, on account of the great weakness after the fever I have 
had from Easter day until now, although it is rrpt so bad 
at present. It seems to me necessary to speak to the Salviati, 
sons of Messer Filippo of happy memory, who gave the wall 
bearing his arms, and to tell them that I would not do any 
thing to his building without letting them know of it. If we 
did otherwise, we should lose many benefits and conveniences 
which he was pleased to have done for our monastery, which 
is going to pieces, and all the old part of the wall is in a 
ruinous state. It would be a great loss if it were left to fall 
down, and a great disadvantage to us, for the wall is ninety- 
four feet long and more than sixteen feet high; it was on 
account of this that the Salviati sent architects and builders 
here, and concluded in short that it should not go to pieces. 
So that they gave us to understand only yesterday by a mes 
sage that they were coming to put the thing in hand at once. 
And we received this as from God in the first place as a great 
gift of His immense providence and of their charity. By 
reason of all this I am in great trouble and anxiety; for I 
feel bound in every sense and am equally desirous to fulfil 
your command, most reverend father; and on the other 



2i 4 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

hand, if I do anything to offend the sons of Messer Filippo, 
they may be displeased and withdraw their hand from an 
undertaking of such great importance to this house. And I 
am so ill that I cannot go to \hegrille; or I would send for them 
and would impress upon them Ytba l>oce (with God s help), 
before anything was touched, whatever may be your wishes, 
most reverend father; and I believe that they would easily 
surrender to the truth. And perhaps they would even put 
in order the confessionals, now so inconvenient; as well as 
the rooms which Messer Filippo inhabited. But they are of 
that sort that it is necessary to manage them a little, and to 
make use of a little persuasion to obtain from them what we 
want. And if I were able to speak to them, I should take 
pains to bring it about so that your Reverence should be 
obeyed, which I care for more than my own life. But I en 
treat you, so long as God shall afflict me, that you will deign 
to have patience, till I can go to the parlour grating, and do 
the business with these Salviati. And then your Reverence s 
wishes shall be immediately carried out. And our mothers 
pray you humbly also for the same. And if you wish any 
thing different, and that nothing should be said on these 
matters to the Salviati, will your Reverence deign to tell us, 
that we may obey you. And if they should be angry, and 
should withdraw their promised benefits, and a great part 
of the monastery should be ruined besides causing great 
mortality amongst us, we would rather choose this, than not 
follow the wishes of your Reverence, who is our father and 
master. And I pray you with all my heart to have compas 
sion on us, your poor daughters, and to commend us to 
God in your holy prayers. 
"Prato, May 30, 1576." 

"Very Rev. Father General, greeting, I have received 
your Reverence s infinitely kind letter, and I thank you for 
your patience for bearing with me with regard to our holy 
cause of the doorway. When I wrote last I thought the 
Salviati would have come; but as they did not, and I de 
sired to obey your paternal commands, I wrote to them with 
all the consideration I could, and they replied, according to 



AND HER COMMUNITY 215 

the copy I send you. After that I went to the revef end father 
prior, and the reverend father confessor, who advised me 
what I ought to do; and while I was in suspense, the letter 
arrived from your Reverence, and the reverend fathers then 
wrote to them again about the state of the monastery. I re 
main at the feet of your Reverence and of the fathers waiting 
to know how I may obey you in all things. And I pray you 
to pardon and to help me, and remember us in your prayers, 
as I always do for you. And from my heart I crave your holy 
benediction. 

" Your Reverence s most unworthy daughter. 

" PratOj July 9, 1576." 

In answer to this letter, the General wrote giving leave 
for the delay until Catherine could see the Salviati. How 
ever they did not come to Prato as soon as she had expected, 
and she therefore wrote to them on the subject of the supe 
rior s desire that the door should be closed as soon as possible. 
The Salviati sent a reply in which they accepted the measure 
for ultimate execution, but begged for postponement to 
enable them to carry out the repairs, etc., for which this door 
of communication was needed. Catherine forwarded their 
letter to Rome, and, to her great surprise, received in return 
a peremptory order to have the opening walled up at once 
without further question. Nothing then remained for her 
but to obey. She had made her protest as to the Salviati s 
rights, and could not now go against the declared will of 
the chief authorities. The door was walled up; and this act 
was the first formal intimation to the community of the new 
rules about enclosure. Some of the nuns got into a fright, 
apparently quite unreasonable seeing that the sacraments 
could of course be brought to the sick, and a doctor or any 
necessary visitor admitted, through the ordinary convent 
door and fancied all sorts of deprivations as likely to arise 
from such a new state of things; whilst the Salviati, as soon 
as they discovered what had happened, simply took the law 
into their own hands and knocked down the wall. Hence 
troubles, from within and without, fell thick on the saint s 
devoted head for some time to come. In her distress she 



216 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

wrote very fully to another superior the head of the Roman 
"Province" ; and her letter gives so graphic an account of 
the whole matter that no further description is needed to 
bring it all before us. Nobody seems able to explain why 
the superiors, both in Rome and in Prato, acted with the 
sudden, and apparently even tyrannical haste that they did 
in the business, making the poor nuns suffer for what was 
not their fault. We can only conjecture that it was one of 
those cases in which misunderstanding on the part of one 
body of holy people is needed for the sanctification of another. 
Pere Bayonne considers the action of Rome, in ordering the 
door to be thus suddenly done away with after Catherine 
had set forth the Salviati s rights, quite inexplicable. 

To the Father Provincial of the Roman Province 
" Reverend and very dear Father, greeting, If the Lord 
by His goodness had not sustained me, a sinner, I do not 
know but that I should have died from the pain your letter 
caused me; and do not be surprised at it. And I do not know 
whether I told you that I desire it, for I fear, nay I am cer 
tain that my sins deserve this punishment, that this poor 
monastery should be so troubled by the prelates* I can find 
no other cause. I wrote to you of what followed; I do 
not know whether you received it. The Salviati, wishing 
to have a painting over the altar of the inner church, which 
they undertook as a labour of love,f ordered a man of their 
own to design how it was to be placed. He came here 
into the church, and saw how it all stood. He then said: 
Take me through that door that I may see the effect. J 
He was answered that it was closed. He said, Very well, 

* This word is wanting in the MS., and can only be inserted conjectural!/. Guasti. 

1* Filippo Salviati, in his will dated June 6, 1572, laid an obligation on his sons to 
have an altar-piece painted for the church at San Vincenzio, at a price of between two 
and three hundred florins. Vasari relates that he painted a panel at the desire of Filippo 
Salviati for the Sisters of San Vincenzio, with a Madonna crowned as if received into 
heaven, and below the Apostles round the sepulchie. But the picture which is preserved 
near the altar, and represents the Virgin assumed and crowned, is known to be by the hand 
of Master Michele Tosino, called delle Colombe; and Razzi tells us in the manuscript 
chronicles of the monastery, that it was ordered and paid for by the sons of Filippo Salviati. 
See the work entitled, A Picture by Filippino Lippi in Prato, and Historical Sketches oftiuo 
Pratesian Painters : Prato, 1840, p. 27 ; also Pratesian Calendar, year III, p. 137. 

4. The outer church, which had its principal door on to the Piazza of San Domenico, 
and was in front of the inner church, used by the nuns. In 1732 it was rebuilt on a 
larger scale. See Pratesian Calendar, years I and III. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 217 

and went away. In four or five days he returned, and said 
that he had to take down that door in order to get off 
certain coats-of-arms from the front of it. As soon as I heard 
this, I went to tell the father confessor, and I found the 
father prior, and told him of it. He was very angry and 
desired me to tell that gentleman not to do it, or he would 
be excommunicated. This order I immediately carried out. 
Then he stopped, and did not return the next morning. 
I believed that everything would be let alone; because it is 
the custom of the Salviati, if they are not allowed to do as 
they like, to leave the whole thing alone. The morning after 
he returned, and said that he had to take down the door, 
there being no other way to pass in and out (and he showed 
an order from the same Salviati) and to adjust certain work. 
And c If anybody said anything, he added, c reply that 
Messer Averardo and Antonio have ordered it to be done. 
And he had his own doors of woodwork with strong locks 
put back, as his masters had ordered. The father prior, 
seeing this, was indignant, and would not have Mass said 
for two mornings; and both churches, the inner and the 
outer, are full of scaffolding and broken plaster, and there 
is no room to stand when the masons are there. You may 
believe that the nuns resent this, and complain greatly, 
not wishing to be deprived of their Mass. And you may 
also believe that I suffer doubly on their account (alas, that 
my sins should be the cause of it all !) letting them appear 
more afflicted than they ought to be, seeing that they are 
not to blame in the matter. And they know that at Pistoia, 
in Santa Lucia, on account of the builders, the confessor 
has been for six months saying Mass in the inner chapel; 
and they are professed nuns of an enclosed order, whereas 
we are tertiaries without enclosure. But they obey readily, 
as is becoming to Religious, but not in the matter of en 
closure. This picture has been such a great and delightful 
interest, and improves the church, through which one has 
to pass to and fro. But to have to lose Mass on this account 
is rather too hard, and seculars make remarks about it. 
Reverend and dear father in the Lord, I think you may 
remember that when it was a question of fastening up this 



218 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



door, you wrote to the Salviati. They replied, that if we 
had a little patience, they would restore the confessionals 
and other things; and do besides what might be wanted. 
After that you wished it closed up, and they were told 
nothing else, and I proceeded to obey, wishing never to 
fail in this, for the love of God. When the master had told 
them this, you would think that they would have considered 
the matter, and would have gone to the bishop to learn 
whether it was his order or yours. For now the seculars 
know everything and talk about it, and complain of you, 
to my great displeasure, for my Order is the apple of 
my eye. And I hear murmurings, and what is said by those 
who have the care of your monasteries. And what is worse is 
that my nuns are quite weary and overdone with these 
troubles, so that I fear, and not without some foundation, 
that they may do something which would displease you. 
My heart is ready to break, and my weak health will not 
bear so much trouble. 

" Pray for me, father, to Jesus ; for I can no longer en 
dure this quarrelling, and all this discontent both within 
and without, which I see and feel is offensive to God. To 
think that my sins, I say again, are the cause of it all ! Alas 
for me ! May God preserve me to see the end of this. And 
again I assure you that my strength is not sufficient for it. 
Pray absolve me from my office (she was then prioress for 
the fifth time) so that I may hide myself and not see my 
Lord so greatly offended. And I am the more afraid, fear 
ing that my infirmity does not give them enough spiritual 
support; they are so frightened, that if any violence should 
be done to them, they will not be able to hold out. And 
very time that I try to persuade and quiet them, they begin 
to doubt me, and almost stifle me with their discussions : 
still I believe that force is not pleasing to God, or that so 
many poor souls should be tried and afflicted, and they seem 
to have reason on their side. And there are not wanting those 
who open their eyes and tell them whence it all comes. There 
fore, dear father, I pray you by the wounds of Jesus, that 
you will mitigate and smooth down this affair as far as 
you can. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 219 

"Then I know nothing about the door, though you may 
hardly believe me, what it has cost me, in my mind : but 
I only wish whatever my Lord wills, for whose sake I beg 
you to bring this building to an end, and to see what these 
Salviati are doing; for I cannot think they are such foolish 
persons as to begin a thing they cannot carry through ; and 
they are cousins of the Grand Duke, and are much attached 
to His Serene Highness. And they have two sisters as you 
know; and the grandmother of their uncle gave the first site 
for this monastery.* 

" I desire nothing else but to please my reverend fathers, 
and especially your paternity (may God be praised for the 
affection I bear you in Him); I desire that you may have 
this monastery at heart and that it may not suffer violence; 
for the nuns will submit, though not on the ground of en 
closure; for our constitutions permit us to go out. We do not 
however avail ourselves of this except for begging alms, 
which the licence of the vicar and of our father prior allows. 

I have written at length; but it seemed that I could not 
do otherwise. My heart is between two mill-stones, the one 
being you, my fathers, the other my nuns, whom, prostrate 
at your feet, I commend to you. I quite understand that 
you could not do otherwise; but you have done your duty 
in letting me feel this cross: blessed be our Lord ! And you 
will forgive me this tediousness, although I have not spoken 
with all the reverence I could desire; for, feeling the grief 
of my nuns, it was necessary to make it known to you. I 
have always had great confidence in you, and have never 
thought that you would change towards us. I pray you that 
I may not be disappointed; nor that disorder maybe allowed 
in your time. And this I say for security and from neces 
sity, and with all the submission and humility that are due 
to you. And I say again that I find no one knows what the 
Salviati have done; therefore what can 1 do about rebuild 
ing ? I should certainly cause some disorder; there are already 
signs of it, and I think you understand me. They are power- 

* Razzi, in the Life of Sister Catherine (lib. I, cap. ii), narrates how Father Francesco 
Salviati, Vicar-General of the Congregation of San Marco, procured the foundation ot 
the Monastery of San Vincenzio in 15035 but there is no mention of the grandmother 
who gave the first site: ilprimosito. 



220 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

ful and nobles; and what they have done appears reasonable. 
And this is true, that they cannot remove these coats-of-arms 
without making the passage; so it would appear best to let 
them finish and then see what they do; but not vex me with 
rebuilding this wall, for I cannot do it. I did it the first time 
with much displeasure to the nuns, and I did not consult 
any one: I thought only of obeying. . . . However, I leave 
all to God, and place in His arms this poor and afflicted 
house ; and you also, that you may be enlightened as to what 
is best. ... I thank you for your very kind letter; as for 
me, I did not deserve so much, rather the contrary, being 
but an abyss of misery. . . . Of your charity give us your 
blessing. 

" Prato, March 6, 1576." 

The next difficulty was about who should shut up the 
door again; for the Dominican authorities did not carry 
out their threats of excommunicating the Salviati, and took 
no further steps; leaving things as they were, so as to throw 
the whole brunt of the trouble on Catherine. Her refusal, 
expressed in the above letter, to rebuild the wall, on account 
of the Salviati s rights, had roused the anger of some over- 
zealous and indiscriminating spirits who hastily concluded 
that her sanctity was more than doubtful when they saw her, 
and the community she ruled, in opposition to the prior and 
other superiors. Whether these were members of the Order, 
or laymen in official authority, is not mentioned; but in 
either case they were people of importance enough to be 
listened to, for they sent to Rome a "memorial," denoun 
cing Catherine s action in this matter, which raised a real, 
storm against her and her convent. Some cardinals and 
other eminent personages, tried hard to get San Vincenzio 
condemned by the Holy See ; whilst the side of the nuns 
was hotly taken in Florence by the grand duke, who sent 
a minister of State to Prato expressly to enquire into the 
affair, that he might have a right foundation for under 
taking their defence as his subjects. He wrote many letters 
to Mother Catherine, encouraging her and promising his 
protection; and Joanna of Austria, his wife, constantly 



AND HER COMMUNITY 221 

urged him to keep up his interest, and often went herself 
to see the saint and show her sympathy. The prior of the 
Minerva in Rome wrote to Catherine whilst this state of 
affairs existed, and the following letter from her, in reply, 
shows her own calm and courageous attitude under all the 
calumnies that were abroad about her. 

To the Prior of the Miner]) a ^ at Rome 

"Reverend and dear Father in Christ, greeting. I have 
received your very kind letter. I thank you for the prayers 
you have offered for me and for the monastery. You tell 
me that my honour and that of the monastery are in the 
greatest peril, and that a complaint has been lodged against 
us. I believe that on that day or during the past week it 
was made known by some person of importance who knew 
that some of the cardinals (or one cardinal) are against 
us, and that those who are acting are actuated by some 
noble personage. And I know that the grand duke sent 
to us Signor Concino to hear about the case; also I know 
that the grand duchess came in person. And the grand 
duke wrote to me, and replied more than once that he 
held and would hold this place under his particular and 
affectionate protection; and I know that he has written to 
me even this morning, and I know with what respect and 
affection I have spoken to my fathers. If therefore anything 
has been said against me, may our Lord be praised who 
holds me worthy to be His follower in being evil spoken 
of. As for myself, I will make no excuses; not that it appears 
at all strange that I should be spoken ill of, the same having 
been done to my Lord without cause; for I am guilty of 
all, by reason of my imperfection. But concerning that 
which you tell me, I am not guilty it is a mistake; but, 
for the love of Him, I am willing to bear everything. If 
the father prior wishes to know who has written it, I know 
no one who could have done so. But when Satan is bent 
on ruining a place, he sets to work to get in the small end 
of the wedge, and causes people to imagine or dream of 
things upside down, taking a pleasure in disturbing and 
afflicting one, and interrupting devotions and observances, 



222 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



and causing danger for his own satisfaction. And although 
I am ignorant and foolish, I know the stairs by which the 
traitor enters to upset holy places, and therefore I have 
commended myself to your prayers. I have had and still 
have cause; and I would not have you feel surprised that I 
commend myself to you. I know you are a servant of God, 
and His priest and minister; therefore it is fitting for me 
to do so. And I have not judged, nor will I judge any one, 
except myself, who am full of evil; but I throw everything 
upon my Lord, that He may be my judge and my defender 
in all that is said against me. In these contradictions I will 
glory; not for any virtue that is in me, but for the love of 
Jesus Christ, who deigns to let me suffer. And I pray that 
I may be His, and may never abandon Him, and I give 
myself up to Him, to follow what pleases Him. Again I ask 
you to pray for me, that I may become wholly His. Your 
blessing. 

" Your daughter and sister in our Lord. 
j August 29, i 577." 



The matter finally ended by the truth s becoming known 
at Rome, and by the disarming of the Dominican superiors* 
anger in face of the saint s quiet and prudent conduct. No 
reprimand at all was given; and the community triumphed, 
for the authorities after all had to do just what Catherine had 
begged them to do at first. They had to leave the door open 
as long as the Salviati wanted it for their work; while the 
sisters were left unmolested, and became gradually used to 
the idea that it would one day be walled up again without 
causing them any material inconvenience as they had feared. 
This came to pass when the works were at last finished ; and 
the convent was once more quiet and at peace. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 223 



CHAPTER XVII 

The Saint s " Spiritual Sons," Religious and Laymen Her Letters to some 

of them 

LIKE the great saint of Siena, whose group of holy disciples 
included men as well as women, Catherine de Ricci num 
bered amongst her friends some specially known as her 
"spiritual sons," without some short account of whom her 
history would be incomplete. Many of these were men who 
like Salviati had been converted by her means, whether 
from sin or from lukewarmness, to a better life. Others, 
already holy, being incited by her example to strive for a 
yet higher degree of sanctity, had earnestly begged to be 
taken for her children. To all alike she gave a large place 
in her heart, and a share in her prayers, penances, and other 
good works; whilst she was unsparing in warnings and 
exhortations for their good, her sole desire in their regard 
being to see them serving God joyfully and "singing 
praises to the Lord." 

Amongst these "sons" the members of her own Order 
form an important group, out of which we must here con 
tent ourselves with choosing, for special mention, one whose 
life is most closely linked of them all with the saint s fame. 
Passing over many more or less noted Dominican names, 
whose owners were spiritual children of St Catherine 
(including her own step-uncle, Fra Angelo da Diacceto, 
afterwards Bishop of Fiesole, and a great friend of St Philip 
Neri), we come to that of her chronicler, Serafmo Razzi, 
whose family name was de Marradi. He tells us how, 
whilst still a novice at San Marco in Florence, he was sent 
to Prato for the feast of St Vincent Ferrer, patron of the 
convent; and how, on that occasion, he was so happy as to con 
verse with the saint and to be received as her spiritual son. 
It was perhaps to this happy and impressive incident of his 
young life for he was but twenty years old that Serafino 



22 4 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

owed that taste for legends and lives of saints that have made 
him so dear to the Church and the Dominican Order. In his 
maturer manhood, when he was given up to the laborious 
teaching of theology, as master of studies, whether at Perugia 
or Ragusa, his refreshment in hard work was to keep alive 
piety in his soul by writing the lives of Tuscan saints. At 
sixty years old, being named confessor to San Vincenzio, 
where the saint had quite lately died, he began to write her 
history in the very atmosphere, so to speak, of the heavenly 
odour rising from her grave, and amidst the immediate 
recollections and impressions of her fellow nuns. Ten years 
later, we find him still there, writing those celebrated chro 
nicles of the convent that are sought after by cultivated 
men as well as by pious souls, in which he shows himself 
according to the verdict of a correct judge " that charm 
ing Tuscan writer, whom one might say had been created 
expressly to describe a world, or rather a paradise, of earthly 
angels." 

Outside her own Order, a great favourite of Catherine s 
was Fra Domenico, a wandering hermit, who travelled about, 
visiting shrines, and carrying his shelter with him. His 
inward spiritual history, as one of the saint s specially-loved 
children, is of much interest. Domenico, we are told by 
Sandrini, was a simple and unlearned man, but with such 
an upright soul that he made immense progress in the 
science of prayer and the love of God, and gained large 
profit from paying yearly visits to his "mother" at Prato. 
One year Catherine had given him as a particular " practice " 
never to lose sight, in any actions, of heaven, and of the joy 
and glory that he hoped for there as his reward. The holy man 
took his staff and wallet, and started afresh on his peregrina 
tions from town to town and shrine to shrine; and at every 
step he took, at every alms he asked and every prayer he said, 
in all his annoyances and all his penances, he thought, as he 
had been told, of heaven with its joys and glories; and, 
behold ! this sweet thought lessened his burdens, scattered 
his cares, and soothed his weariness. Then, comparing the 
little that he did for God with the great things that God 
was preparing for him, he blushed to be such a cowardly 



AND HER COMMUNITY 225 

servant, so niggardly of his services to such a great and 
munificient Lord. Thereupon, he redoubled his prayers, 
fasts, penances, good works, and patience in trial; in short, 
his fervour in everything. But, do as he would, the vision 
of heaven constantly grew before his mind s eye, bringing 
with it a perfect torrent of inward joy; so that as he in 
creased his labours he did but increase his happiness, and 
there were times when he even fell by the way as he jour 
neyed, actually overcome by the greatness of his delight. 
Had any one, at such moments, met the poor begging 
hermit, covered with sweat and dust, gasping for breath 
beneath some tree or hedge, he must have been rilled with 
pity for his apparently wretched state of want and fatigue. 
Yet this man was just then happier than a king on his 
throne, inwardly revelling in joys unknown to the ordinary 
mortal. So, when the year had run out, and the disciple 
went back for his teacher s fresh lesson, he begged her to 
give him no new practice, but to let him keep always to 
the same, no other having been so sweet and fruitful. It 
used to be said in the convent that, when this holy mother 
and son discoursed of the future life and its mysteries, 
wonderful things passed between them. Like two seraphs, 
their souls encouraged each other to mount incessantly 
higher and higher in the ways of divine contemplation; 
and the favours that they received were in proportion to 
their love. They are said to have been rapt sometimes, 
when together, into extraordinary ecstasies. 

But Fra Domenico, like his saintly teacher, was not 
without his humorous side when he came down from the 
heights; and an amusing story is told by Razzi of a bit of 
mischief that he practised one day on the nuns at Prato. 
Taking it into his head that he should like to test the 
charity of the sisters who managed the convent hospitali 
ties and alms-giving, he presented himself at the door 
without saying who he was (the portress, of course, being 
a stranger to him) and asked for a loaf, which the sisters 
hastened to bring him. Keeping it in his hand, he then 
said that he should like a little wine. This they said he 
was very welcome to, and they fetched him some of the 

15 



226 ST CATHERINE DE RICC1 

red wine that the community used. Next, he asked if they 
could not find him something to eat with his bread, which 
they again made no difficulty about. When, however, he 
finally went on to say that he "hoped they would excuse 
him, but that he did not drink red wine and would be very 
grateful if they could bring him a little white," the minis 
tering sisters felt that they could not quite take this upon 
themselves the white wine being somewhat of a luxury 
and went to get Mother Catherine s leave, telling her what 
had passed. The prioress gave her consent; but she came 
down to the hospice to see who this strange frate might 
be, who had asked for so many things; and recognizing 
Domenico at a glance, was delighted to see him. Then the 
holy man thanked her cordially for all that the sisters had 
supplied him with; but added, with a sly smile, that it was 
well for them that they had satisfied all his demands, 
"Because," he pleasantly said, "if it had happened to be 
our Lord in person who had asked them for all this, they 
would have been greatly grieved and troubled at heart not 
to have contented Him." "Yes," replied the saint, archly; 
"but then possibly our Lord in person would not have 
asked for quite so much!" 

Turning now to Catherine s " sons " amongst laymen, 
who were many, we can find space here for mention of only 
two or three specially bound up with her community by 
devotion to its interests. The nuns poverty, as we have 
seen, was great sometimes extreme and Catherine often 
depended entirely on the good-will and exertions of her 
secular friends for the transaction of business which she 
could not pay professional agents to do. Many of her 
spiritual children proved the solidity of their attachment 
to her, and of their esteem for the Prato community, by 
perseveringly doing really hard work for their benefit; 
and amongst these, Buonaccorso Buonaccorsi, Lorenzo 
Strozzi, Ludovico Capponi, and Antonio Gondi, shall here 
be chosen for particular notice, as specially interesting 
in different ways. Buonaccorso Buonaccorsi was born in 
October, 1506. He was a man of religious mind from the 
beginning; and, quite early in his career as public notary, 



AND HER COMMUNITY 227 

went and offered his services in looking after the business 
of San Vincenzio on the sole condition that Catherine 
would charge herself with the guidance of his soul. She 
readily consented, and rejoiced in him as a son who 
made great spiritual progress throughout his life. His great 
claim on our interest is that many of the saint s letters are 
addressed to him. Amongst some papers belonging to the 
Prato convent now preserved in the State Archives at 
Florence there is a small note-book containing an entry 
of some interest in connection with Buonaccorso, which 
runs thus : " In the name of God, Amen. This journal is 
called by me, Master Buonaccorso, son of Leonardo Buonac- 
corsi, Florentine notary, Holy Journal A^ in which I shall 
put down everything that I may happen to pay or to 
receive every day on account of the convent of San Vin 
cenzio at Prato, and on account of others, for the benefit 
of the nuns and the use of the said convent." The entries 
concerning San Vincenzio, however, are not many. 

Amongst St Catherine s letters to Buonaccorso, are one 
or two notes addressed in common to him and Antonio 
Gondi,and to him and Lorenzo Taddei.* Some of her letters 
to the notary are of course on temporal business: the few 
chosen for giving here are spiritual ones. 

Buonaccorso died in June, 1592, two years after the 
saint. He was buried at San Lorenzo. 

To Buonaccorso Euonaccorsi 

" I received your welcome letter of the 2oth a few days 
since, and hasten to reply. In yours you ask me about two 
things, for neither of which I know sufficient; nevertheless it 
appears to me that those who wish to be pleasing to God, 

* Lorenzo Taddei, above-named, was a man associated for a time with Buonaccorso 
in his work for the Prato nuns, having acted for a time as procurator-general for them 
after Pierfrancesco de Ricci s death. He was devoted to the saint, who had a great 
admiration for his character and, though he was a comparatively young man, called him 
father. He died not very long after her elevation to high office, in March, 1555; and 
the following passage about him in a letter to Buonaccorso (not otherwise interesting) is 
worth quoting. After expressing her grief at his loss, she goes on: "It is well for him: 
he reminds me of a rose gathered in the early morning, fully blown, but still covered 
with dew and unburnt by the sun. To lose such a person is necessarily an affliction; but 
to be able to hope that he has passed only from one life to another gives one a contented 
feeling that overpowers and soothes all one s grief; and this is what has happened to our 
father." 



228 ST CATHERINE DE RICC1 

must despoil the old man, which is the affection for all earthly 
things and the pleasures of sense; and put on the new man, 
which is the love of all heavenly things, the observance of the 
holy commandments, with zeal for the honour of God. Take 
an example: If any one in this world wishes to make friends 
with a nobleman so as to obtain from him some benefit or 
temporal dignity, he goes about to ascertain the will of that 
person, and does whatever he can to please him, never resting 
day or night. Now, how much greater care and diligence 
ought we not to show to do things pleasing to almighty 
God, who does not reward His elect with temporal goods 
that soon pass away, but with those eternal benefits that we 
inherit for all time ! 

" Now as to your second demand. Having granted so 
many others, I now grant to you, to place you where you de 
sire in our Lord (i.e., as a spiritual son) ; and so I accept you, 
and offer you to Jesus and make mention of you in all my 
prayers in the same way the one dearest to you, to whom 
pray commend me. And inasmuch as it would be agreeable 
to me to know her, let that be at her and your convenience. 
And I thank you for your kind offers, which I greatly appre 
ciate. It may happen some day that our honoured Lorenzo 
Taddei, or Giovanni Colucci, our procurators, may require 
your help and advice for our lawsuits. I have told them they 
may consult you, for I see well your kindly disposition to 
wards us, which enables me to place confidence in you, as I 
hope you will feel the same towards us whenever we can help 
you. May God preserve you. 

"Prato, December 28, 1552." 

To the same 

" I have received your very kind reply to our two last, 
also that of Lorenzo; I have little to say now, except that it 
seems each one is vying with the other to help me, and if 
there is any good in it, it is from our Lord. And it is a great 
thing to try to outdo one another in good, provided it be not 
in the spirit of envy, not withholding our neighbour from 
good, because we are not foremost in it; but with a holy 
eagerness and thirst for the celestial spring, to run vehe- 



AND HER COMMUNITY 229 

mently, and without placing impediments in the way of 
others. Oh! if such envy as this were to-day in the hearts 
of Christians, how many there are who would reach the 
wished-for goal which is in our time desired by so few! Let 
us take pains then, my dear son, to run quickly and to win. 
And in this race you will not be deemed presumptuous, no 
more than that poor but happy thief who was crucified with 
Jesus. Does it not seem to you that he competed wisely with 
that multitude of holy fathers in Limbo, who had been wait 
ing thousands of years for the redemption? For he took so 
swift a course in a moment that he outran them all, and de 
served to be first at the goal, yet without detracting from any 
one who had the right to participate. I advise you to go and 
run your course in like manner; to this I invite you once 
more. For this is, my son, our day for the contest; and we 
must keep more firm than usual, as this year the beginning 
and end of our redemption both occur together.* And with 
regard to holding firm, we see, for example, how when a man 
thinks of some great thing, turning it over in his mind, he 
stops all his work, and many times seems to remain motion 
less; so should we, considering how profound is the matter 
we reflect on, remain firm and motionless; first, because 
Mercy, having overcome Justice and placed itself before the 
eternal Father, has moved Him to take flesh for the salva 
tion of our ungrateful souls. It has drawn down God from on 
high to lowest earth; enclosed Him whom the heavens can 
not contain in the womb of a virgin; made the mighty Lord 
become an infant, enduring all the misery that others feel. 
From true God He became true man; from immortal and 
impassible, mortal and passible; from divine, human; from 
highest wisdom He made Himself in the likeness of ignorant 
man; from a master whom angels serve, into the servant of 
men. What intellect, considering this, would not be amazed, 
and become astonished and speechless, knowing that all this 
was done to pay the great debt that human nature owed to 
the Divine Being? And because human nature could not of 
itself pay this debt, nor open that heavenly door which its 
disobedience had closed, there came the Saviour, the power- 

* i.e., Good Friday must have fallen on March 25 that year. 



2 3 o ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

ful One armed with such great treasure and ready to pay 
every debt for us, and restore to us the heritage of our celestial 
country. . . . We see Him toiling for three-and-thirty years, 
teaching and exhorting the people, and working so many 
signs and miracles ; nevertheless, He was called a seducer, and 
many times calumniated; driven out and had stones raised 
against Him; finally He was betrayed by one who well knew 
whom he was betraying ; yet He humbled Himself and washed 
his feet, and communicated to him His most holy body and 
blood. And with great love He showed him that it was he 
who should betray Him, so as to give him time to repent; by 
which He showed how great is the goodness of God, who 
until a man has taken the last plunge is always urging him 
to be converted. . . . We see Him bowed down in the agony 
of death, humbling His humanity before the heavenly 
Father, that the cup of His bitter Passion might pass from 
Him; but the love of our salvation was so kindled in His 
imprisoned soul that He subjected Himself to the will of 
the eternal Father, and went to meet His enemies, to whom 
He gave Himself up as their prey. And being bound, the 
heavenly Judge was led before earthly judges, standing as a 
meek lamb while those dogs vituperated Him. And they 
blindfolded Him from whom nothing can be hidden, crowned 
with thorns Him who is the giver of the highest crowns to 
all His elect, led as a malefactor to the place of death, with 
the heavy cross upon His back, and ill-treated, Him who 
knew no sin. And He, being arrived at the place, made His 
prayer to the Father, not because He had need of it, but 
for an example to us. If we were to try to sound the least 
part of the secrets hidden in all the acts of Jesus, especially 
in the Passion, time would not suffice. I will leave you to 
contemplate this, in whatever manner it shall please His 
goodness to inspire you; and let us pass to where, having 
taken off His vesture and being stretched upon the cross, 
He seemed to say to those cruel tormentors: c Do it quickly, 
delay not; open these veins, so that there may be made 
a new fountain, and be ye washed and cleansed, all ye that 
shall enter it. And this, my son, is the course we have to 
take, to throw ourselves eagerly into this great sea, and 



AND HER COMMUNITY 231 

be washed and cleansed, for it has been all done for us. Let 
us sign our foreheads with this sacred blood, that with this 
sign we may go to the eternal Father and tell Him that 
His only Son has paid for us; that we have run and found 
the goal all red and glowing, for it is Jesus on His cross, 
bleeding and dying for love. 

"I am sorry that your and our Mona Lessandra is ill. 
Tell her to take care of herself and bear this cross for the love 
of Jesus, who gives it her ; greet her and commend me to 
her, and may she be happy. I commend myself to Lorenzo, 
and to yourself, and so does Mother Syndica. Adieu. 

"Trato, March 18, 1553." 

To the same 

"I have received your very kind letter, and 1 under 
stand what you say. But either you have not understood 
my last, or I did not know how to express what I wanted, 
since I have given you displeasure in saying that the service 
of God must not be forced. The service of God may be said 
to be forced in two ways. First, when we serve Him from 
fear of His judgements, or from being obliged to do so, on 
account of human respect. This I believe, indeed I am 
certain, is not your case. The second occurs when a man is 
much occupied in various kinds of business; and yet with 
all this he wishes to undertake a certain secret service of 
God, which is beyond human strength, and thus he always 
wants repose in his heart, and he cannot have that tran 
quillity of soul which makes us happy. This is what I fear 
happens to my dear son, whom I would remind that God 
has placed our souls in this miserable flesh so that one 
should serve the other, and thus give us the opportunity 
of gaining merit. It is necessary, when the senses try to get 
the upper hand, that the spirit should rise up and conquer 
by means of virtue ; and when the spirit becomes too 
stringent, that reason should step in and prevent the soul 
from drawing too much to itself, so that the body is pro 
strated; and this again is hurtful to herself, since we cannot 
merit anything, unfortunately, apart from our body. There 
fore, my dear son, when you find that you have much 



2 3 2 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



temporal business, you cannot undertake spiritual exercises, 
for you would perform them in such fashion that your body 
would not serve your soul. Therefore such exercises as you 
find you can do, see that you direct them to the honour of 
God, who in His mercy will accept them, as if you were in 
continual contemplation ; and then when you can, make 
your prayer and some reasonable penances, giving proper 
rest to the body; for the better and longer it can serve the 
soul, the greater merit it will have, and your heart will be 
both more tranquil and more joyful. It was this I wished 
to point out to you in my letter about forced service. 
I meant it in this manner. The thought came to me at 
times that you do too many penances, too many vigils and 
austerities, as I believe did also my other dear son, Antonio 
Gondi. Remember both of you that you are not [a professed] 
Religious ; that our Lord asks of you one thing, of us 
another ; therefore you must both temper severity with 
right discretion, and offer all your works to our Lord, who 
will graciously accept them. This is my present to you for 
this feast that, like dear sons, you may be happy, and find 
yourselves in the cave in that holy night, in which, just as 
you are, I will present you to Jesus ; and you must offer 
me to Him, and the poor sister (Bernarda Giachianotti) 
who is writing to you. 

" We expect you for this feast, although we did not 
give you leave for the two last; so I hope you may have 
more satisfaction than you would have had otherwise. And 
tell Antonio that to-morrow is his feast, as well as that of 
a novice called Sister Ilaria; he may be glad of this, for he 
will be greatly helped by all these young angels. 

" Your daughter is very well, and on the Epiphany 
she will sing the lesson at Mass. She wishes me to tell you 
that she will learn it well, and you will be pleased with her. 
May God keep you in His holy grace. 

" Prafo, December 21, 1555." 

To the same 

" I have spoken at length with Vincenzio. He said he 
knew he had done a great wrong, and had greatly offended 



AND HER COMMUNITY 233 

you; he desires to be pardoned, but this being an old affair, 
he did not tell you then so as not to cause you trouble. 
But now, being constrained, he has done so, and he knows 
he has not considered, what is worse and more displeasing 
and reprehensible, that he owes two hundred scudi ; but 
the man, for the sake of getting the money, will take one 
hundred and fifty. And from this time forward, if you will 
forgive him and make peace together, he will never do such 
a thing again, nor get embroiled with Quirino. Like a good 
son, he asks your pardon, as did the prodigal, and he has 
made me his mediator. If I merit to receive this grace, and 
if you can with one hundred and fifty scudi relieve him of 
this debt, I shall be very pleased. But do not be angry, for 
I do not wish to force you; but I believe that your son has 
spoken the truth. That being so, all will be well. 

" It grieves me to hear that you are not well, and that 
it is from these troubles; but if you make a good resolution 
you will be better in body and soul. And I will tell you, 
my dear son, what just now occurs to me: that this son of 
yours is the talent that Jesus has given you, with which 
you are to gain eternal life. So, like a good trader, go and 
traffic with this talent, so that you will hear those much- 
desired words: Well done, good and faithful servant/ 

" Trato, February 4, 1581." 

To the same 

"Yesterday I wrote to you at length; and now I will add 
that however it may not be seemly to come between father 
and son, nevertheless I judge it well to do so, that if he 
should humble himself again and ask your pardon, you may 
forgive him; for in forgiving, you will be doing that which 
is pleasing to God. So I trust you will hear me this time, and 
so give pleasure to me and to our poor sisters, who are 
greatly grieved about it. He has promised me to do nothing 
in future against your wish; therefore return to your better 
self, like the loving father you have always been. I commend 
myself to you. May God protect you. . . . 

" He assures me that he has no other debts, and that he 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCJ 

never will incur any; this he has promised me faithfully. . . . 
Adieu. 

" Prato, February 5, 1581." 

To the same 

"I thank you for having yielded to my request to 
forgive Vincenzio, which I believe will be the right thing. 
As to the payment of his debt, I trust to you, who know 
much better than I what to do, and what is most to your 
advantage. As I have told you, he has promised faithfully 
never to fall again into the like difficulty, and never to have 
dealings again with Quirino. And after all I have said to 
him I have been able to speak the truth plainly, and told 
him he must keep to it if he follows my advice, it will be 
more for his good than any one else s. And I wish you to 
tell him that I will go bail with you for him, with this 
understanding, that if he fail in anything, I will never speak 
for him again, nor stop to listen to him. This I will promise 
you; but only under these conditions will I submit to go 
bail, and not otherwise. 

"He and your ladies went away yesterday. I shall be 
glad to hear of their arrival. To you and to them I corn- 
commend myself. 

" Prato, February 6, 1581." 

Lorenzo Strozzi, son of Filippo, grandson of Matteo 
Strozzi, was born in July, 1482. He was elder brother to 
the Giovanbattista afterwards called Filippo so cele 
brated in Florentine history. Lorenzo cultivated letters, and 
was a friend of the eminent literary men of his day; he held 
honourable office under the Republic, and in different times 
always took the side of the upright and loyal citizens. Varchi 
calls him "a noble man and a great soul"; and Machiavelli 
declares that "in nobility and fortune Lorenzo had few 
equals; in intellect, hardly any; and in magnificence, none." 
He did not always approve the political proceedings of his 
brother, yet was suspected of joining in them. He retired at 
last to his villa at Santuccio,and there wrote two treatises, on 



AUTOGRAPH LETTER OF THE vSAINT 
(Addressed to LORENZO STOZZI, one of her "Spiritual Sons"). 







^r*o 

ons ct tnjfJjr e /"**^f*tt/te J g t <e& c^TW^wam* cl 
CtblttJirJ act IHI h* acovHctetarg & w vn/e wariefalac0t6 



on f p or to *IU grauifi"** ^frvrniK*. ut~ a ui Jtriuo co 
yv^i vurft cofi nal/centSjo fr fcviHtrt / j Lf -f f c ^^ rctcconZJw Jf<? 
m dcboU ortufiont/ et mec/iatire l<* leftera " *$C mrf rior* 
f ( an co ret *-*ee(ia.Hf^ ntta [etSvA dctt 



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(a quaff fffff ituote hciryto nefl-ifj $< nap/tamo 



r 






., 

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S Je it pafit-Hf-ic* fopjiorf-cir- tf-r c<rmSfp.er-o c$ 
ftV*v meg/1 vcnfo (Irj \t&) (o f<*fciaf-e / f 



anc-o e- 

no i^oglio feno le f-ud. vio** famifiirxa f^r^ fluol ft 



AND HER COMMUNITY 235 

"Patience" and on "Almsgiving," which remain in manu 
script; and the " Lives of Illustrious Men" of the Strozzi 
family, of which some fragments were published by Bigazzi 
and by Canon Giuseppe Bradi,of theAccademia della Crusca. 
The date of his death is not given, but it was probably 
about 1549. 

The three letters from Mother Catherine to Lorenzo 
that here follow models of practical spirituality in their 
brief form speak for themselves as to her keen sympathy 
with the trouble of ill-health and failing powers. 

The first of them, it will be seen, is the letter given in 
this book as an example of the saint s hand-writing. 

To Lorenzo Strozzi 

" IHS. Honoured and most beloved in Christ Jesus, 
greeting in Him who so much loves you ! Both in obe 
dience to one who has a right to command me, and no less 
on account of the sympathy that I feel for your very great 
illness, I write you these few words with difficulty, and as 
badly as I can write; so that, as you have recommended 
yourself to my prayers in a letter addressed to our Reverend 
Mother Prioress, and in another to Domenico Marcassino,* 
the friend of Jesus, you may be sure that I will not abandon 
you as regards the prayers that I can and ought to [offer] to 
Jesus, or to His most holy Mother, in whose love He would 
fain see us clothed if we wish to be agreeable and pleasing 
to Himself; and also because of the great and particular 
obligation that we are under to you, for the help given at 
various times to our poor monastery. 

"May God not consider my sins, but may He answer 
your great faith, as far as this may profit for the salvation 
of your soul; may He have bowels of compassion for you, 
and look upon you with merciful eyes, because in one 
moment He may grant you all the graces you desire. 
I promise you (God watching over me, not because of my 

* Called by Razzi "a man looked upon in Florence as highly versed in spirituality." 
He is mentioned in the "Note on the iron necklace of Girolamo Savonarola," referred 
to in the preface to Guasti s edition of the "Letters." 



236 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

merits, but through His goodness as I hope) that I will 
never let you want what little help I can give you. Trust in 
God: if He strikes you here below, He will not desert your 
soul redeemed by His precious blood. You know that some 
times the shepherd uses threats and blows to bring a 
sheep back to the fold; and yet he only does this to have 
it in safety, and to deliver it from the devourer and destroyer. 
It suffers the blows, and afterwards enjoys the peace and 
comfort obtained for it by the one who has loved it so much. 
I know that you understand me well. Notwithstanding all 
this I should still like you to be heard for your soul s health; 
that is, that such excessive pains and sufferings should be at 
least diminished, for the honour and the glory of the Lord, 
and for your encouragement and that of those who love you 
in God. May the Lord reward you for all that you have sent 
to us through our friend. All our mothers thank you, as 
well as Mother Prioress, who desires me to write our thanks 
to you for your charity to the daughters of Jesus; and I also 
join with her. May His Majesty grant you increase in His 
holy love, and make you understand that all you suffer is 
known to Him, and that He will compensate you for all if 
you bear it with patience, as I hope you mean to do; or, 
rather, as I believe you are doing. 

"Give yourself entirely to Him and He will give Him 
self to you; say: c Do with me what Thou pleasest, give me 
either sickness or health, so long as I am pleasing to Thee; 
I wish for nothing but to do Thy holy will. Mother Prioress, 
Mother Sub-Prioress, and all, recommend themselves to you. 

" Your very unworthy daughter, etc , etc. 
"August 23, 1543." 

To Lorenzo Strozzi 

" How greatly Antonio Cioni recommended you to me 
I could not express; but he has asked me to write with my 
own hand, which I do for the love of God with some fatigue, 
but willing for His sake and yours. Would that I were such 
as to be able to give you comfort, but I am not used to 
writing such things, so you must excuse me as to this, 



AND HER COMMUNITY 237 

though I can tell you truly that I pray a great deal for you. 
And if you are not blessed with bodily health, and you 
suffer this with great patience, your seeming to feel your 
soul in danger may not be a reality before Jesus, who 
perhaps leaves you in bodily pain in order to purify you 
from many past sins, and to purify you here instead of 
there where the pain is greater beyond all comparison. And 
if your mind seems weakened, it is sufficient that your 
will remain fixed on our Lord, who sees how much you 
desire not to offend Him. And if you feel as if you offend 
Him, there is pain in this, but not guilt, for our Lord sees 
your inmost heart, which you must continually offer up to 
Him. Try to make as little trouble of it as possible, and 
be as cheerful as you can. And I shall always be pleased to 
hear of you from your Antonio Cioni. May Jesus and the 
Virgin defend you from all evil now and always, until your 
last end. Hope in God, for He will in justice give you 
consolation. 

" Prato, March 26, I 544." 

To the same 

"I replied to your last letter of a few days since, being 
very sorry for your affliction, and that you feel old and not 
very well, and that you have now to be under the charge of 
your sons, whereas up to the present you have been father 
and master. We feel sure that these things are very hard to 
bear. Yet it is necessary for peace sake to make the best of it. 
We are very pleased at your good will towards our monas 
tery, and know that your humanity* would be desirous if 
you were able of helping us, your poor daughters in Christ; 
for you understand our need, which is always increasing, and 
how temporal matters press upon us all round. 

" But we are writing to you now again, since we have 
received your alms of five golden scudi; they arrived just 
in time, as only He knows who inspired you to do this act 
of charity. Therefore we are the more bound to pray for 
your humanity, both for this benefit and for the compassion 
we feel for you. I have commended your charity to the 

* Meaning one learned in the Humanities. 



2 3 8 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



Mother Sub-Prioress and to all the sisters, who will not fail 
to pray to our Lord that, if it please Him, He will deign 
to grant your desire and will repay you for this charity, 
which may have been some inconvenience to you, and for 
others you have done for us in times past. And we shall 
remember you not only now, but always, and especially at 
this holy season, as our own father. Again we commend to 
you our monastery, and may we always be grateful for all our 
Lord sends us, whether great things or little, and not forget 
our obligations to the instruments of Hisbounty. 1 commend 
myself to your humanity, as does also Mother Sub-Prioress,* 
who joins me in thanking you. 

"Your daughters in Christ, 

O 

" SISTER MARIA MADDALENA BELLI STROZZI 

"and SISTER CATHERINE DE RICCI. 
"Prafo, December 17, 1548." 

Of all this group of friends, however, the most inter 
esting, after Filippo Salviati, were Antonio Gondi and 
Ludovico Capponi men of most opposite character, but 
almost equally dear in their different ways to Catherine. 
Capponi, born in March, 1533, and described as "hand 
some, young, and of noble carriage," when the saint first 
knew him, was of the best and most accomplished society 
in his native city. Educated at the celebrated school of 
Ludovico Buonaccorsi di San Gemignano, whence flocked 
the elite of the Florentine youths, Ludovico was not only 
attracted by the charms of literature, but vividly impressed 
by the heroic deeds of warlike Rome. The master of this 
school let his pupils form imaginary plots and conspiracies, 
and practised them in oratorical disputes, wishing to give 
them the habit of speaking boldly in public before both 
princes and people, in which he did but carry on the tra 
ditions of the old republic. Some of Buonaccorsi s disciples 
joined in political disturbances, and either died in party- 
fights or were executed ; others gave themselves up to study, 
or filled public civil offices; but Capponi, by the course of 

* Sister Maddalena was just then prioress, and St Catherine sub-prioress. Whether 
Maddalena Strozzi and Lorenzo were in any way related does not appear. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 239 

events in his own life, was equally turned from the pursuit 
of arms and from that of belles-lettres on going forth into 
the world. The rapacity and dishonourable conduct of a 
brother engendered in Ludovico s heart a deadly hatred, 
which for many years took complete possession of him, 
and involved him also in long lawsuits, petitions to autho 
rities, and various proceedings of a disturbing kind, all 
having the object of getting justice done to him, and even 
of revenging himself on the offending parties in what 
seems to have been a very complicated family dispute. 
Added to this trouble was the opposition of both relations 
and powerful rival suitors to Capponi s marriage with 
Maddalena Vettori, a maiden with whom he was deeply in 
love and who fully returned his affection. Her father was 
dead, and she was in the joint guardianship of a legal 
court which opposed the union, and of her mother, who 
favoured Ludovico s suit. 

The whole story of this young couple is striking, espe 
cially because of the determined and independent attitude of 
Maddalena herself refreshing to read of in a state of society 
where hardly a girl dared refuse any man she was told to 
marry; but it is too long to give in detail here,* and it must 
suffice to say that Ludovico finally triumphed over the other 
suitors partly through influence of the grand duchess, 
whom Catherine interested in her protege s cause and they 
were married in 1558. Throughout all his stormy life Ludo 
vico, if passionate and resentful, was always upright and 
honourable to a high degree: so much so, in fact, that he was 
not always acceptable in a corrupt court; and was the object 
of much dislike and many calumnies from the partisans of 
the Medici. The date of his making St Catherine s acquain 
tance is not given; but it must have been pretty early in his 
career, as we are told that being almost miraculously over 
come with a desire for holiness, like so many others, on his 
first visit to her, she helped him by her prayers and instruc 
tions for about thirty years. Violent, determined and pug- 

* The full particulars of Ludovico s and Maddalena s love-story, and also of his 
family and political troubles, may be found in the French edition of the "Letters," be 
ginning on p. 365. 



2 4 o ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

nacious in character as he was, Ludovico found it very hard 
to acquire the gentleness demanded by the saint from her 
"sons"; but he valiantly kept up the fight with his faults, 
and at the end of that time, mainly thanks to the singular 
grace gained for him by his "mother s" prayers, he had 
attained something very near to perfection in self-control. 
The following letters are chosen from a number written to 
him, with a few to his wife (a great favourite with her) by 
Catherine, who kept up constant communication with them 
through all these years. It must be remembered, in reading 
these letters, that the "case" referred to several times means 
one of Ludovico s petitions to authority concerning some 
of his numerous wrongs, in trying to rectify which his de 
voted wife frequently helped him: in one case, particularly, 
going herself to present a memorial to the grand duke on 
her knees. 

These specimens of the Capponi correspondence have 
been chosen so as to cover a considerable space of time; and 
it is amusing to find, when her "son s" children became 
marriageable, how completely Catherine, who in early days 
had strongly upheld Maddalenain her independence, adopts 
the entirely conventional tone of her contemporaries about 
the submission of daughters where matrimony is concerned. 

To Ludovico Capponi 

" Much honoured and dear to me as a father, greeting, 
Being certain that you, as a good Christian, both cherish 
and endeavour with all your strength to bring up and ac 
custom your children to love the things of God; and con 
sidering that our Lord in this impending festival deigned 
for love of us to take on our flesh, and to become a Tittle 
child, an abject to human eyes, but in the eyes of faith the 
highest Son of God and our Redeemer; in order that your 
children may have the opportunity in their tender years of 
honouring in childlike manner this mystery, I send you a 
simple creche with the holy Virgin and Jesus, so that you may 
tell them in a way they can understand, how at this holy festi 
val they can stand round the holy Mother and Jesus, and how 
they can say Ave Marias for me and all of us, and be good 



AND HER COMMUNITY 241 

children. And I feel sure that she would be pleased with the 
mystery represented, and with their love. And I beg you to 
remember me in all your prayers at this holy season, and 
say the same to our honoured Mona Maddalena, and for 
all of us. To you and her I commend myself ; we will not 
fail to remember you in all our community and private 
prayers at this most holy festival, and your special intention. 
Farewell in our Lord. 



** December 1 8, 1573." 



the same 



"By Salvestro, our serving-man, I send you back the 
report of your case, which I shall be glad to hear you have 
received safely. Besides this I must tell you that I have 
read and considered it; it appears to me to be very well 
done, and that it will show to whoever reads it with an 
open mind that you are in the right. But for all this, as 
1 said when speaking to you, and as I now tell you again, 
I pray that you will in everything leave your cause in the 
hands of Divine Providence, who will not fail to find means, 
perhaps when you least expect it, to give you full satisfac 
tion and to justify you to every sort of person. And if it 
should not so please Him, leave it all to Him, for He will 
perhaps wish to try you in this way, and give you the chance 
of merit, and of atoning for past errors; for we are all sin 
ners. Remember all the calumnies heaped upon our innocent 
and blessed Lord Jesus. And His most holy Majesty is 
powerful to justify you here; and if this should not please 
Him, He will not fail to do it there, if your are patient. 
That is the only thing that matters; things here pass away 
and life here is very short, but there it is eternal. Therefore 
I pray you, dear Ludovico, calm yourself and let this cause 
sleep awhile, because you have done what is honourable and 
reasonable. Also we know that you are right and have not 
erred, and honours and favours have not been wanting to 
you. Besides, you must await the Divine Wisdom, who 
knows best how and when it will please Him to hear both 
you and me. For this I pray always on your behalf, and as 

16 



242 ST CATHERINE DE RICC1 

I tell you, I shall not cease to help you with continual 
supplications. 

" It remains only to say that I am well and that I much 
wish to hear how you and your consort are, and whether 
your coming caused any inconvenience. I commend myself 
to you and to her, and greet all the children for me. Valete 
in Domino. 

"August 26, 1574." 

To the same 

" I have received yours and have read it very carefully, 
and in truth I feel the greatest compassion for your case. 
There are a thousand good reasons on your side, and im 
portant ones too; and as you have not had justice, all the 
more one must feel compassion for you, as I do. But 
believing that in the hands of our God are the hearts of 
princes and of those who govern, we know, the eye of 
reason being fortified and enlightened by our holy faith, 
that our Lord permits all things for our salvation and for 
our greater good. Even if we suffer evil and things against 
our honour, nevertheless, my dear Ludovico, neither our 
own judgement, nor devils, nor the world of men, can 
separate us from His most holy Majesty. Therefore I pray 
you, Ludovico, dear to me as a father, in ^isceribus Jesu 
Christi, be comforted; time is short, God is for us all, and 
He will judge all, and justice will then take its proper 
place. And think that if it should not please Him to give 
it you here at once, wait, wait; rest, rest your soul and 
keep your holy faith, and say: c God is all-powerful, wise 
and good; He sees and loves my salvation and will procure 
it; my wants are known to Him; above all, I desire with 
all my mind to wish what He wishes. Do not doubt, bear 
all this hard warfare with patience and tranquillity towards 
your enemies. Wait in hope; for if not here, in that other 
life He will not fail to do you justice. 

"Afterwards I read your letter, and learned what 
Maddalena has done; also I read the memorial, which is 
very well drawn up. I see by the report that His Highness 
does not wish to make any revision. Well, Ludovico, the 



AND HER COMMUNITY 243 

saw works according to the one who uses it, thus it pleases 
God. Now, do me this pleasure; take off your thoughts 
from doing anything more in defence of this case, because 
you see there is nothing to be done. I pray you to embrace 
this cross with all the patience you can, and I will not fail 
to help you with my prayers, and such as I am, I will do 
all I can for you and your family. To you and Maddalena 
I commend myself a thousand times. And I say once more, 
make an offering to God of this chalice, and say with Jesus 
in the garden: Fiat ^oluntas tua. I send you back the memo 
rial with this, and shall be glad to know that you have 
received it. Valete in Domino. 
"September 24, 1574." 

To the same 

" I had your very kind letter of the I5th inst., and as 
you told me you were going into the country, I have de 
layed my answer until I feel quite in your debt. I must tell 
you first that as I am the lowest servant of Jesus, I do not 
wish you to give me the title of signora, because I am 
not one; neither must you speak of holy feet and hands, 
because I am but miserable flesh, a mere sack of vermin 
and a useless creature ; therefore please do not use those 
expressions to me, but keep them for those who deserve 
them. And I pray you not to be angry when I say this, 
because out of the affection that I bear to you in our Lord, 
I do not like you to use superfluous terms, which towards 
me are a mistake. But be assured that I always do and shall 
pray for you and your house, as I would for my own. I pray 
you to commend me to Mona Maddalena, and to yourself. 
May our Lord preserve you. 
" Prato, May 27, 1578." 

To the same 

" I have received your very kind letter, which I have 
read twice, and have considered at the end what the thing 
is that your own daughter has spoken to you about. I wish 
that for once you would follow my plan, which is that, as 
soon as you receive this, you will go and confirm the 



244 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

engagement with Girolamo Albizzi before you dine. When 
you have done this, you will see how disburdened you 
will feel. Especially when you have had the certainty that 
you are not displeasing the relations of the deceased nephew, 
and that Girolamo Albizzi is not in fault, and that he is not 
concerned with the one who committed homicide. All these 
things will console you, especially if the engagement be 
accepted voluntarily; the more so as your own daughter is 
asking it, though it is scarcely a thing that a girl ought to 
do. But as we are in such a troublesome world, we have to 
act cautiously and consent at times to things we should not 
do at others, so as not to make them worse than they might 
be. Ease your heart of every difficulty, and do at once 
cheerfully what I have told you, for it will bring great 
peace to all your house, and God will help you. So do it 
cheerfully and heartily, so that, whatever may happen to 
your daughter, she will not have to complain of you. And 
let me know, if possible by supper-time, that you are all 
good friends together. And then, in your own time, follow 
the counsel, and profit by the help of His Serene Highness 
for the second, with de Botti, since you have the possi 
bility of settling them also. May God give you grace that 
all may turn out honourably; meantime I hope to hear 
that it is done, and I give you my good wishes for your 
happiness. 

"Prato, April 12, 1589." 

70 the same 

" I have received your letter, and understand the danger, 
and then the great grace received (for which I thank God 
and the most holy Virgin); also the little satisfaction you 
have in the younger girls, who ought not to dare to lift 
their eyes in your presence, much less to speak. By this 
one can see how the world has deteriorated. And in their 
position they should speak differently ; and whoever puts 
them up to these things, will have to give a serious account. 
May God forgive them all; and may you overcome all by 
patience. 

"I suppose Antonio has returned you the bundle of 



AND HER COMMUNITY 245 

your letters which I had, and which I value. To-day I send 
you back Maddalena s ; I also thank you for the white 
wine and the red. I commend myself to you ; may God 
keep you. 

"PS. [by Sister Giachinotti.] Our Reverend Mother 
can no longer drink the red wine, so highly coloured as 
the last; she likes it light and mild, but do not let her 
know I told you. I commend myself to you. 
"Prafo, June 27, 1589." 

Ludovico Capponi religiously preserved Mother Cathe 
rine s letters to him ; and below the last he ever received 
from her (a little note, dated January, 1590,* when the ill 
ness which ended in her death had already attacked her) he 
wrote this memorandum: 

" This letter was the last written by the most holy Sister 
Catherine to me, so great a sinner, but her devoted son and 
servant, although quite unworthy of so many favours and 
such high grace. I shall always glory in having been honoured 
I, a wretch by the last letter she wrote upon earth. 1 
entreat her, now that she is living in heaven, to pray for me, 
for my whole family, and for the soul of my sweet son 
Giulio, that God may have mercy on him, as she strongly 
encouraged me to hope." 

The Capponi letters number altogether, including many 
small notes, over ninety. But before Capponi even before 
their cherished Fili ppoSalviati stood Antonio Gondi in the 
affections of Catherine and her nuns; and from the account 
of his character, quoted from Razzi, he seems well to have 
deserved his high place amongst the saint s spiritual child 
ren. She is said, indeed, to have looked upon him from their 
first acquaintance as one from whom she could learn, rather 
than as a pupil in things divine, and to have depended upon 
him for the keeping together and encouraging of her other 
" sons," who appear to have been constantly seeing or re- 

* In both French and Italian editions this letter is dated 1589; yet the editors speak 
quite correctly as if it had been written immediately before her death, which was in Feb 
ruary, 1 590. There is therefore clearly a mistake, which has been overlooked, in the date. 
It is corrected above. 



246 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



ferring to him. Gondi, the date of whose birth we are not 
told, was a member of an illustrious family of that name. He 
lived, whilst his brothers and relations led the usual lives of 
luxurious Florentines, rather the life of a poor Religious 
than that of a rich and noble secular; especially, he always 
wore most humble clothing, keeping to the cut and fashion 
of his own youth without alteration as he grew old. Re 
maining unmarried, he adopted for his children the shame 
faced poor, and actually living with his brothers made 
the churches and holy shrines his chief places of resort. He 
always attended Divine Office at San Marco, would stand 
during all the sermons, and never neglected daily spiritual 
reading even in the midst of pressing business. In all things 
he was humble and poor in spirit, and mortified to the last 
degree. Hence, whilst Catherine would spur on Ludovico 
to constantly-increasing exertions towards self-mastery by 
means of penance and fervour, she had rather to do her best 
to pull Antonio back in his practices, by reminding him that 
cloistral austerity might be injurious in his state of life. It 
is not, however, through direct communication with him 
that we can study her attitude towards Gondi, as there are 
no letters to him extant except two perfectly uninteresting 
ones on pure business. It is in her incessant references to 
Antonio often by familiar pet names, such as " Toto," 
" Tonino," " babbo Toto," etc. in letters to others, both 
from herself and some of her nuns, and in the frequent 
messages sent to him, that the really tender and filial affec 
tion felt for him by them all, and the close intimacy to which 
he was admitted owing to the deep respect they had for 
him, comes out. In all probability there was very little need 
for letters^ as Antonio acted for thirty-seven years of his 
life as " Procurator-General " to the nuns, superintending 
other workers in their practical affairs, and being in every 
way of so much consequence to them that he was doubtless 
constantly at Prato, settling business as well as discoursing 
on spiritual things, viva Ivoce. We know from the history of 
Vincenzio de Ricci how he helped Catherine in her family 
matters, and what thorough confidence she had in him as 
guardian of her " boy." He was in full sympathy, also, with 



AND HER COMMUNITY 247 

her and her community in their favourite devotion to Sa 
vonarola, whose memory was most sacred to him. He studied 
the great preacher s works, and devoutly kept relics of him 
as also did Ludovico Capponi, when once Catherine had 
acquainted him with the life and writings of one whom she 
so deeply venerated.* 

Antonio Gondi only survived our saint one year, dying 
in 1591, and being buried as he had desired under the 
pavement of San Marco, where he had spent so many hours 
of his life in prayer. He did not forget the needs of the 
convent for which he had worked so hard, but left the com 
munity 6,000 crowns by his will. 

* About 1572 St Catherine began deliberately employing many ot her "sons" in 
the work of trying to revive, especially in the city of Florence, the then almost extinct 
devotion to Savonarola. They succeeded so well that by 1583 the old confraternity 
of his followers the Piagnoni seemed come to life again; and Cardinal Alessandro 
de Medici bitterly complained of its revival, accusing the fathers of San Marco and the 
nuns of San Vincenzio of bringing it about the latter especially, by painting and dis 
seminating pictures of the great friar. But the men of influence in Florence whom 
Catherine had set to work amongst the townspeople, and especially amongst youths ol 
the better class, had probably done more towards it than any one else. (See, for full 
details of this matter, Chap- XII of Tere Bayonne, Vol. II.) 



248 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



CHAPTER XVIII 

Later years of St Catherine s Life Her relations.with St M. Magdalen de 
Pazzi With St Philip Neri Her friendly intercourse with Seculars 
Her spirit of Religious Poverty in sickness Her increasing humi 
lity and desire of self-effacement shown by a final act 

CONTEMPORARY with Catherine de Ricci in Florence, though 
much younger, was one of those seraphic souls that appear 
to pass through this life only to be consumed by the love 
of God: Maria Maddalena de Pazzi, commonly known in 
England as St Mary Magdalen de Pazzi, the Carmelite. 
Like Catherine, she was of patrician race; and, also like her, 
she had left her father s home with all its splendour and 
attractions, whilst quite a girl, that she might possess the 
one and only Beloved of her heart in the "desert" of the 
cloister. Having entered Carmel, at the convent of Santa 
Maria degli Angeli, when sixteen years old, she had flown 
towards the things of God with such extraordinary rapidity 
that even before the end of her novitiate she had become 
the wonder of her companions for her angelic virtues, her 
raptures, and the many supernatural favours that it pleased 
heaven to grant her. Mother Catherine was at this time 
nearly sixty-four; and one can imagine her joy at all she 
would hear of the dawning of a sanctity like this so close to 
her. History tells us that these two holy souls held personal 
intercourse by some miraculous means, but it gives us no 
details of the manner in which this happened, or of which 
went first to greet the other saint. The only authentic account 
left of their relations with each other enables us merely to 
conjecture two things: that it was Mary Magdalen who first 
supernaturally visited Catherine, as the already illustrious 
spouse of Christ, whose glory was then filling all Italy; and 



AND HER COMMUNITY 249 

that the ecstasies to which both were subject plays no small 
part in their holy intimacy.* 

At this same epoch, St Philip Neri was reaching the 
summit of his renown, and rilling the capital of the Christian 
world with the good odour of his virtues and his apostolic 
zeal. As is well known, having been born in Florence and 
brought up under the influence of the San Marco friars, he 
had the greatest esteem and affection for the Domincan 
Order; and hence, in Rome, kept up a close intercourse 
with the Minerva. It was through this priory, and the con 
stant visiting between the Roman fathers and their brethren 
in both Florence and Prato, and especially through Fra 
Angelo da Diacceto, a friend of both, that St Philip and 
St Catherine had early learnt to know and to appreciate 
one another. To all his wonderful virtues and holy deeds, 
St Philip Neri added a further title to her respect and affec 
tion, in Catherine s eyes, by his ardent devotion toFraGiro- 
lamo Savonarola. From his childhood he had religiously 
preserved the memory of this great servant of God. He 
venerated his relics, kept his picture in his cell, and invoked 
him with affection as a father and a powerful protector in 
heaven. Benedict XIV reports a vision of St Philip s in con 
nection with this devotion of his, which seemed to give it 
divine sanction. He says that when a great assembly of 
theologians, under Pope Paul IV, was debating the question 
of condemning certain doctrines of Savonarola, Philip 
being in ecstasy before the blessed Sacrament at the Minerva 
surrounded by Dominican fathers saw and heard the con 
clusion of the debate and the announcement of victory for 
Fra Girolamo s friends; which was confirmed shortly after 
wards by an official message from the Vatican. f 

It is not difficult to believe that two holy souls, with 
such similar inclinations, became intimate by means of let 
ters as soon as report and messages made them known to 
each other; and it is believed by biographers of both saints 
that they held a correspondence for many years. There is, 

* For a passage on this point, see Vitadl Santa Maria Mad.de 1 Paxziyby Vincenzio 
Puccini, chap.lxvi,p. 150, which describes how this saint, when in ecstasy, saw her letter 
delivered to St Catherine, and the latter writing an answer to it. 

f Opera Bened: XIV, de Servorum Dei Beatificatione, etc., lib. Ill, cap. xxr. 



250 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

however, no letter from St Philip to Catherine left, and only 
one from her to St Philip, which is as follows: 

To St Thilip Neri 

" I am mortified when I think of you, so continually 
occupied in such great things for the glory of God, that 
you should write to me, who am a poor vile woman and a 
miserable sinner. May God reward you for your great 
charity to me. I have asked our Lord to let me serve Him 
in health of body this Lent. He has granted me this 
grace; for in a moment all my malady left me; but I do not 
seem to have deserved it, for I have done nothing. 1 have, 
however, applied to yourself a part of all my works; and I 
have prayed the divine Majesty to make and keep you 
well, because our holy Church has great need of you. And 
be you pleased to pray to Jesus for me, that all the graces 
He gives me every hour may not be thrown away by my 
fault. Live ever in joy of your end; for to such a faithful 
servant as you have been all through your life, God, who 
is most just, cannot deny the reward of paradise. Prostrate 
on the ground, I ask your blessing. 

"Your unworthy daughter, SISTER CATHERINE, 

" A sinner at the feet of Jesus. 

"San Vincenzio" (undated). 

A niece of St Philip Neri s, named Lisabetta, and 
married to a certain Cioni, appears both to have known 
and to have had some disagreement with the nuns of Prato; 
for amongst her uncle s letters there is one, dated October 
29, 1574, addressed to some anonymous person whom he 
begs to be kind to his niece " who is at law with the sisters 
of San Vincenzio." He asks his correspondent to see whether 
she is in the right or not: if she is, to help her, and if not 
to dissuade her from pleading. 

But communication by letter was not enough for these 
ardent souls, who would fain inspire each other viva vote 
to higher flights of divine love; and they both expressed a 
strong desire that God would enable them to meet some 
day, even here below. Humanly, however, this seemed 



AND HER COMMUNITY 251 

impossible; for though St Philip was not, like Catherine, 
bound by vow of enclosure, he was completely chained to 
Rome by his work there, which nothing ever induced him 
to leave. Nevertheless, God, with whom nothing is impos 
sible, brought about the meeting; and the following is the 
account given of the matter in Bacci s "Life of St Philip" :* 

" Giovanni Animuccia a penitent of Philip s, living 
in Rome, but a native of Tuscany having gone to Prato, 
and visiting Sister Catherine de Ricci, of the Dominican 
Order (now commonly called the Blessed Catherine of 
Prato), asked her if she knew Father Philip Neri; the 
servant of God replied that she knew him by reputation 
but not by sight, though she had a great desire to see and 
speak to him. The following year, Giovanni returned to 
Prato, and went to visit her again, when she told him she 
had seen Father Philip and spoken to him. Philip had 
never left Rome, and Catherine had remained in Prato. 
Giovanni, arrived once more in Rome, went and told the 
holy Father Philip what had happened at Prato between 
him and Sister Catherine de Ricci; and Philip confirmed 
the truth of all that the servant of God had told him. 

Furthermore, in presence of several persons, the same 
venerable father, speaking of Catherine after her death in 
1590, said openly that he had seen her in her lifetime, and 
described her features in detail; although (as has been said) 
Philip had never been to Prato and Catherine had never 
come to Rome. The portrait of the servant of God having 
been printed, Philip exclaimed on seeing it: That picture 
is not like! Sister Catherine had different features ! "f 

There is a well-painted picture in Florence representing, 
from imagination, this mysterious meeting of the two saints, 
into which the artist has introduced Savonarola as if 
descending in glory from heaven as the common object of 
their special devotion. 

* Lib. Ill, cap. xi, no. n. 

t In the Bull of St Philip Neri s canonization, Urban VIII thus expresses himself : 
** Iterumque cum in Urbe maneret, tune in humanis agentem Catharinam Ricciam, sub 
regula Sancti Augustini monialem, Pratis in Etruria commorantem, longo temporis 
spatio est allocutus." In case the mention of "St Augustine s" Rule should puzzle any 
reader, it may be well to state that the Dominican Rule is founded on the Augustinian. 



252 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



But whilst Catherine thus earnestly sought after inter 
course with the saints, she grew none the less affectionate, 
as time went on, towards her many ordinary friends and 
associates in the world, conspicuous amongst whom was the 
ill-used wife of the grand duke Francesco, Joanna of Austria. 
The latter, ever since the year 1567 two years after her 
marriage had made a confidante and adviser of the saint, 
and their intimate friendship continued until Joanna s death 
in 1577. After her friend s decease, Catherine loyally de 
voted a large portion of her prayers and penances, in ful 
filment of a promise made to the duchess, to obtaining the 
salvation of Francesco, who died only three years before 
the saint herself* 

To the last years of her life she kept up gracious and 
cordial relations with all the seculars that she had to do 
with, showing her interest in and esteem for her friends by 
every delicate thought and attention that her state allowed. 
Thus, she specially loved to send presents of fruit, con 
fectionery, etc., such as the convent could produce, on 
occasion offcasts orfastsfthat made the gift appropriate; and 
this because kind feeling to wards her fellows madehergladto 
seize on any opportunity that she might legitimately take 
for fulfilling customary social obligations. When age came 
upon this saint, necessarily drawing her soul closer and 
closer to her God as the time approached for going to join 
Him, everything one reads of her shows how her heart 
went out more, rather than less, to all with whom she had 
human ties, and what pleasure it gave her to contribute to 
their innocent earthly enjoyments as well as to their spiri 
tual perfection. 

* Many interesting details of this friendship between Catherine and Joanna, and a 
few of the letters connected with it, are extant; but, as space fails for giving them in the 
present volume, readers interested are referred to Pere Bayonne s Life, and to Guasti s 
introductory notes to his Letters. 

f The sending of sweetmeats, etc., in Lent, to friends or acquaintance, was a frequent 
practice of the time, and is referred to in several letters of the saint. It was done, not 
for the sake of treating people to extra luxuries in the penitential season, but in order 
to help them through the severe fast by providing them with things allowed by the 
Church at " collation," or supper, which should act as condiments to their frugal fare, 
and so encourage them not to break the Lenten rule. San Vincenzio seems to have 
been rather famed for the making of sweet things of various kinds ; and Catherine was 
fond of treating people, in whose spiritual state she was interested, like babies in this 
particular. 



AND HER COMMUNITY 253 

Joined to this lenient spirit towards others, however, 
was an ever-increasing sternness and severity towards her 
self. Even where some absolutely necessary care for her 
health was concerned she never for a moment forgot what 
was demanded by her state of life, and allowed not the 
slightest relaxation of those monastic virtues, which she had 
undertaken to observe till death, to creep in under the 
excuse of needful dispensations. Never would she beg, 
from even the richest and most intimate of her friends, 
for anything that would be a comfort or relief to herself, 
until positively compelled to make such a request by really 
extreme need. Thus, in the case of wine the common 
drink, when of a common sort, of an Italian community 
Catherine s constant illnesses so weakened her stomach 
that, whilst she could actually not do without it, as she 
would doubtless have liked, by the time she was fifty 
she was unable to take the coarse, rough kind that was 
used in the convent. One day, therefore, Bernarda Gia- 
chinotti, the syndica, when acting as the saint s secretary, 
contrived to put a private postcript to a letter to Ludovico 
Capponi, telling him what was the only quality of wine 
that suited their mother s weak digestion. Ludovico was 
only too glad to know this, and to provide what was wanted; 
and he wrote to Catherine herself, saying that as he had 
heard of her being ill he had got a few small barrels of 
Chianti for her special use, which were now at her disposal. 
The answer that she sent him exactly shows forth her ideal 
of Religious perfection in such a matter: her objection to 
accepting, even for health, a gift for herself so valuable as 
to infringe in the least degree upon the rules of common 
life and poverty; but her readiness, both from delicate 
feeling towards the giver and from the " spirit of the 
poor" which begs and takes alms in the name of Christ, to 
accept one small enough to be merely a personal charity : 

"Motto onorando e Fratello carissimo" she writes, "I am 
very grateful to you for your benevolent thought and your 
affectionate kindness to me. But as it does not belong to 
the rules of common life that a nun can have anything 



254 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



of her own and for her particular use, I may not and 
cannot allow a small barrel of wine to be set aside from 
community use to be exclusively reserved for me. Do me, 
then, the pleasure of keeping this provision for yourself; 
and when I need any, I promise you that I will ask for it 
from you just as freely as I should from my own brother. 
For if people only send me a bottle or two of this wine, 
as you have sometimes done, our sisters are pleased for me 
to accept it from the kind hand that offers it ; and then 
I express my gratitude as I have always done to you." 

This was written about 1573. Not till many years later, 
after terrible sufferings which had reduced her almost to 
extremity, did she keep her promise, and write (1587) as 
follows : " Fratello carissimo^ as I have now been ill for several 
days, I should like to have a little of your Yino vermiglio, but 
of very soft quality, for this illness has so irritated my tongue 
that I can bear nothing strong or sharp; and even soft things 
hurt me. Have patience with me ! You see I am treating 
you with real confidence. One bottle of this wine will be 
enough." 

As Catherine drew near the end of her earthly course, 
that humility which had always been her strong characteristic, 
and which was at the root of her simple and straightforward 
interpretation of duty in every department, so continually 
deepened that every day seemed to increase her utter con 
tempt of self. She took every opportunity that offered of 
either escaping or repudiating any expression of respect or 
admiration from others; and did this in such a matter-of- 
course and natural way as to prove her genuineness. We 
have seen in one of her letters to Capponi how distressed, 
and even displeased, she was at his calling her by any titles 
of dignity or using terms towards her which implied a 
belief in her sanctity. Another Florentine gentleman, the 
Cavaliere Ricasoli, whose life we are told she had once saved 
by a miracle, was deeply impressed by an interview he had 
with her in after years, which strikingly brought out 
the low opinion she had of herself. In 1588, two years 
before her death, being on a pilgrimage to Lucca with his 
wife and children, Ricasoli stopped at Prato simply to pay 



AND HER COMMUNITY 255 

his respects to Mother Catherine. As soon as he was in 
her presence at the parlour grille he began, in graceful and 
courtly terms, to reproach the saint with not having given 
him any commands to serve her for a long time, and having 
thus prevented him from proving his gratitude for the signal 
service that she had rendered him. He was about to 
recall the incidents of the wonderful event, when Cathe 
rine dexterously turned the conversation to another sub 
ject; and she continued to make this subject so interesting, 
and to fix her visitors attention on it so completely for 
the remainder of her interview, that they forgot everything 
else until they left. They took their leave quite charmed 
with her sanctity and attractiveness; but when once out 
side the convent, the single thing that remained in their 
memories was the extraordinary humility thatshe had shown, 
about which they were afterwards never tired of talking to 
their friends.* 

In the last year of her life St Catherine crowned her 
numerous acts of humility by a peculiarly great and solemn 
one. She had been gradually discovering, for some time 
past, the habit that her daughters had of keeping written 
records of her own extraordinary supernatural favours: espe 
cially, she learnt, Sister Maddalena Strozzi did this. It was 
a real grief to her to know it, truly believing as she did in 
her own worthlessness, and having a real horror of being 
handed down to posterity either within or without the 
convent in what she looked upon as an entirely false light. 
It would appear, however, that she either did not like to 
make much of the matter by discussing it with the sisters, 
or that she doubted their strict obedience on this one point 
if she were to forbid the preservation of such records; for 
she merely awaited an opportunity of getting hold of the 
objectionable manuscripts, that she might destroy them her 
self. This she found one day in the year 1589, when all the 
choir nuns happened to be in the chapel together for some 
time. Then, using her right as prioress to enter the cells, 
Catherine went round to every one that she had reason to 
suspect of containing written notes on her doings, hastily 

* Seraf. Razzi, lib. Ill, cap. i, p. 102. 



2 5 6 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



collected all papers that she could lay hands on, which she 
thrust into a bag, and, going to the bake-house, where an 
old lay-sister was just then heating the oven, said anxiously: 
" Sister, make haste to burn these papers, for woe to us if 
they should be found in the house ! " The old sister, who 
was specially devoted to the saint, suspected nothing but 
that here, as her mother told her, were bad writings, and 
threw them into the fire instantly as she was bidden. A few 
minutes burnt up all these really precious records, and 
Catherine went away rejoicing;^ but what her daughters 
said on discovering her act we are not told ! The memory 
of it was, however, perpetuated amongst her townsmen; and 
as late as about 1843, when they were keeping in Prato 
the centenary of her canonization, a certain Tuscan poet 
Pietro Odaldi, of Pistoja celebrated the saint s humility, 
as shown by this act, in verse. His view was that, great as 
were the wonders, whether of prayer, ecstasy, or penance, 
that the cells of San Vincenzio s convent had witnessed 
during the saint s life, nothing equalled the grandeur of the 
moment when the holy prioress had deliberately given to 
the flames, as she believed, all written record of her virtues 
and glories. f 

Thus did Catherine de Ricci, by nearly her last deed, 
unconsciously impress on her own life a lasting mark of that 
virtue which she had ever declared to be the fundamental 
one of all true sanctity. Sister Maddalena Strozzi, in refe 
rence to her strong feeling on this point, related how she her 
self had one day recommended to the saint s notice a person 
with great reputation of holiness ; and how she had then 
asked in confidence whether she believed this person to be 

* Seraf. Razzi, lib. Ill, cap. i, p. 104. 

f- Though the papers thus destroyed were of incalculable value to future biographers, 
there were happily one or two of her nuns manuscripts which did not perish after all, 
either because they had been more carefully hidden than others within the convent, or 
because they had been already given into the charge of the prior or confessor who had 
taken them away. Two specially mentioned as having been thus preserved, and made 
use of afterwards, are: (l) A manuscript written by Sister Maddalena Ridolfi (one of the 
widows spoken of in a former chapter, who died in the convent after St Catherine), 
which was used in the process of beatification 5 and (z) a manuscript compiled, between 
May and September, 1583, by Sister Tommasa Martelli, which contains many incidents 
of the saint s life, and in which are copies of one of her letters and of two "chapters" to 
to her nuns. (See Guasti s Letter e, etc., page cvi of Italian edition; page 70* of French 
translation.) 



AND HER COMMUNITY 257 

as holy as was reported. Catherine had replied without hesi 
tation: " Yes if she is humble; for whenever I see a soul 
established on this foundation, I believe it capable of every 
good thing. But if I should see a person working miracles, 
and did not find the virtue of humility in his soul, I should 
refuse him my esteem and think nothing of him."* 

* Le Letter e^ etc., Document}, p. I 10. 



258 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



CHAPTER XIX 

The Saint s interior life during her latter years Her last illness Death 
(1590) and funeral Posthumous Apparitions and Miracles Open 
ing of the Cause of her Beatification It is postponed Celebrated 
Incident in the Process She is beatified (1732) Her Relics trans 
lated She is Canonized (1746) 

SUCH, then, were Catherine s relations with her kind such 
the outward manifestations of her virtue as the end came 
near; and just as these exterior, spontaneous acts and words 
often betrayed the largeness of her charity and the depth of 
her humility to friends outside, so, we are told, did many 
things in her demeanour unconsciously betray to those with 
in the convent something of her almost hourly increasing 
union with the Beloved of her soul. Age and suffering made 
no difference to her fulfilment of all possible active commu 
nity duties, nor was her high supernatural state shown by 
any deliberate change in her outward life. She daily talked, 
worked, gave orders, dictated letters, remaining always calm, 
peaceful and affectionate, to nearly the very end, as usual. 
Only, as she did all this, it was more and more clear to all 
around how no exterior things at all neither the being 
surrounded by her nuns, nor visits of friends, nor public 
ceremonies, nor any concourse of people could draw her 
thoughts for a moment away from God. They saw how, on 
the contrary, every person or thing that she had to do with 
had come to serve as a means of ever-stronger attraction 
towards Him, to such a degree that she could not regard 
a creature of any kind save as a re minder of her Creator. 
Numerous beautiful stories are told by the old biographers 
of the supernatural atmosphere that appeared to surround 
the holy prioress during the last stage of her earthly life 
stories of how a flower, a stream, even a thing connected 
with the prosaic daily work of the house would throw her, 
as of old, into an ecstasy; of how a glory often shone round 
her, visible to all, as she knelt in a state of rapture after Com- 



AND HER COMMUNITY 259 

munion; and of how her angelic purity of body and soul 
was from time to time made manifest to her sisters by a 
sweet and delicate fragrance like to no earthly perfume 
that accompanied her presence or remained where she had 
been. They tell, too, of heavenly visitants of the Blessed 
Mother of God, of saints and of angels, who came to give 
her a foretaste of the joys to which she was hastening, by 
their company. 

But no spiritual joys or heavenly visions altered the 
saint s desire to suffer to the end with her Lord. It has been 
shown in the last chapter how stern she was to herself, as 
her illnesses increased with age, in the matter of any sort of 
relief from better food or whatever might be called a luxury. 
In addition to this unyielding negative self-denial, she went 
on unceasingly with the positive severities of exterior bodily 
penances, which nothing would induce her to give up un 
less when actually incapacitated. Besides continuing to wear 
her painful hair-shirts and girdles, and keeping up her con 
stant fasts and abstinences, she never relented in her practice 
of three severe nightly disciplines, which she seems even to 
have increased in degree as time went on. 

The sufferings, throughout which Catherine thus heroi 
cally acted, were in themselves enough to have served as 
penance for many ordinary lives. We have seen, by the 
numerous references to it in her letters, how frequently she 
was laid up with attacks of fever all through her life. These 
attacks never appear to have decreased, and often reduced 
her to such weakness that she was in bed for weeks together, 
whilst they were frequently accompanied by great pains. 
Besides these natural illnesses, the saint suffered severely 
from the permanent, sharp pangs produced by the sacred 
stigmata, which never left her; and the excessive strain upon 
her natural faculties caused by her frequent raptures, when 
the spiritual powers were exercised to a degree that unavoid 
ably disturbed and weakened the corporal ones, kept her in 
a chronic state of excessive delicacy. Hence, bodily comfort 
became a thing unknown to her, and the very thought of 
rest impossible in connection with this world: and here 
came in perhaps the most heroic of all her acts; for, through 



260 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

all this, not only was she full of supernatural courage and 
readiness to suffer cheerfully with her crucified Spouse, but 
she kept up her bright, serene and sympathetic intercourse 
with all around her, unaltered, in the midst of her worst 
illnesses, and as all her sufferings increased with age. Thus, 
to the very end, she was not only the spiritual head and 
mother the supernatural guide and publicly acknowledged 
glory of her community, but their daily joy and delight, 
from the freshness and grace of her nature, as completely 
as she had been in her earliest days of office when almost 
a girl. To her outside friends, too, there had been no observ 
able difference, all having been accustomed to hearing of her 
sufferings and to seeing her bravely overcome them, when 
the time came for her departure. 

It was on January 23, 1590, that her last illness came 
on. Several members of her family had come that day from 
Florence to see her, and Catherine had let them take up her 
attention so entirely as to neglect necessary care of herself. 
Towards evening, when they left, though extremely tired 
and having barely broken her fast, she insisted on going to 
Compline, for which it was just the hour; and this proved 
to be the last time that the saint was to be present in the 
choir with her daughters. At seven o clock she ate her 
modest repast; and at nine she was seized with violent pains 
in her side, which tormented her without ceasing for four 
days. On the last of these days, the 2yth, grave complica 
tions appeared; and as no care in nursing, and no treatment 
of the doctors who were sent for, seemed able to hinder 
rapid aggravation of the bad symptoms, Mother Catherine s 
devoted children began to add the dread of losing her to 
their grief at seeing her terrible pain. In the midst of it all, 
however, she still retained her calm gentleness and sweet 
smile. Only when they told her that she must submit to 
a very severe remedy that had been administered in a former 
illness, she said quietly: " 1 know that when Jesus wishes 
to mortify us, He always finds the means." The said remedy 
had before almost stifled her; so, fearing the same result, 
she prepared for speedy death, and began by humbly beg 
ging pardon of all the sisters present for "not having been 
all that she ought have been, but a great sinner and a bur- 



AND HER COMMUNITY 261 

den to the convent." Then, comforting them with gentle 
words, she exhorted them to persevere in holy observance 
and community life, promising to be their protectress before 
God; and afterwards she got them to support her with their 
arms, so that she might creep round her cell to two little 
altars she had there: one with a crucifix and the other with 
a statue of our Lady holding the Divine Infant. At each of 
them she made a long prayer, asking our Lord and His 
Mother that she might live a little longer if God willed, 
"Not for myself, but for my poor daughters." Then, sur 
rendering herself utterly to \hefiat of Divine Providence, 
she entreated the Blessed Trinity, by that love which had 
created her in His own image and likeness, to forgive all 
her sins and grant her salvation. She further begged the 
Blessed Virgin, as refuge of sinners, not to desert her in 
the last moment, and all the holy angels and saints to be 
with her in her need, and conduct her to her eternal home. 
On January 31 she asked for the appointed remedy, 
which consisted in five small globules of terebinth, and 
took them with eyes fixed on the crucifix, and in honour 
of the Five Sacred Wounds. That same evening, as her 
illness increased, her loving daughters thought that the 
crucifix which had formerly been the medium of such 
wonderful miracles in her cell might be a comfort to her, 
and fetched it from the church, not without a hope that 
her cure might be miraculously worked by its means. 
Catherine, when she saw it brought in, stretched forth 
her arms with joy to receive it, and pressing it against her 
breast poured forth many tender ejaculations to her cruci 
fied Spouse, thanking Him fervently for His sufferings on 
her behalf, lamenting her own ingratitude, and humbly 
begging again for her own salvation, for which she said 
she confidently hoped, " not through presumption, but 
from love of Him." She further protested that she had 
always wished to die on the cross with Jesus, and offered 
herself once more as a victim to the Divine Majesty. She 
finished with an earnest prayer that our Lord would free 
her from all fear of death, so that she might go full of 
hope to meet Him ; and as she uttered this last request, it 
is said that a terrible noise was heard outside her cell, 



262 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

accompanied by a shaking of the whole house that felt like 
an earthquake. The nuns were convinced that this dis 
turbance was one final effort of the enemy of souls, venting 
his impotent rage against the holy woman whose life had 
snatched so many from his grasp. 

On February i they asked Catherine if she would like 
to receive Viaticum, which she said was her most earnest 
wish. She immediately prepared for it by sacramental con 
fession, and afterwards remained for an hour in prayer, 
which seemed like an ecstasy. As she came to herself they 
heard her murmur softly, "We must submit to the will 
of God," and hence concluded that she had had her 
approaching end positively revealed to her. The Holy 
Eucharist was then brought in solemn procession to her 
cell; and as she heard the little bell announcing its arrival, 
she cried, "Here is my Jesus let us go to meet Him ! " 
and insisted on being helped off her bed (where she lay 
fully dressed) and supported, kneeling on a little stool, by 
two sisters. Her face, we are told, was so radiantly beauti 
ful at this moment that no one would have guessed her to 
be close to death. When the Blessed Sacrament entered 
the room, she adored it by a deep prostration; and, gazing 
at it with a look full of confidence, once more thanked her 
Saviour aloud for all He had done for her. Once more, 
also, before receiving the sacred elements for the last time, 
she turned and begged pardon of her weeping children 
"for not having always helped and comforted them as well 
as she could have wished"; and then she made her oral 
profession of faith in the Real Presence and in all the 
truths of the Holy Catholic Church: after which she de 
voutly received her Lord s body and blood, and knelt on 
between her two supporters for some little time in fervent 
petition and thanksgiving. 

Two hours later, Catherine saw individually a great 
many of the community who came to give her their last 
confidences and to receive her advice, and for each one she 
had some special " words of life " to comfort her and some 
special light to give. After these interviews were over, she 
still had the strength and clearness of mind necessary to 
spend a few hours in giving minute directions about the 



AND HER COMMUNITY 263 

administration of the temporal and spiritual affairs of the 
convent. But time pressed. They administered the sacra 
ment of Extreme Unction; and she received it with fervour, 
answering the appointed prayers with her sisters, and even 
singing with them again kissing the miraculous crucifix 
and uttering more loving ejaculations. This solemn cere 
mony over, she sent for the whole community to her bedside, 
in divisions, taking in turns the separate groups or classes 
of which the sisterhood was made up the postulants, the 
lay-sisters, the novices, the "juniors," and the "ancients" 
and to each little flock gave, with her dying lips, such 
particular instructions as were exactly suited to its own 
condition. One only of these final exhortations shall be here 
cited, showing the spirit of them all, i.e., her last words 
to the "mothers" of the community. She recommended 
specially to them peace and union amongst themselves; 
zeal for the honour of God, for regular observance, and 
for the perfect fulfilment of their vows. She told them that 
their part was to watch most carefully that the question of 
"mine and thine" was never introduced into their convent, 
but that everybody there persevered in the common life 
after the manner that she had established; and she concluded 
by this solemn declaration: "That the spirit of possession 
in a monastery was poison to the love of God, and the 
source of innumerable disputes and great disquiet of con 
science, for any one who was bound by a vow of poverty." 

Then, her last duty to her children accomplished, Cathe 
rine turned away finally from everything but her God, quietly 
dividing her attention between thoughts of our Lord in 
His Passion, and the saying of her usual Taters, Aves, and 
psalms. On the very threshold of eternity, as her strength 
gradually ebbed, she was as calm and collected as she had 
been on ordinary days everything about her simple and 
unexaggerated her death, in short, merely the act for 
which every moment of her life had prepared: the going to 
be happy for ever with her Maker. The last prayer whose 
sound the watchers caught on her lips was an "Our 
Father." 

The end came at about two o clock in the morning of 
the Purification, on a Friday. A little while before this 



264 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 

hour, the nuns kneeling round the saint s bed thought they 
heard some peculiarly sweet singing in the distant novitiate, 
and a few of them stole out of the cell to listen to it. Then 
they found that it was not within the house at all, but that the 
sounds, of entrancing beauty, seemed to come from above; 
and they felt convinced that nothing less than a choir of 
angels was making this divine harmony. For more than a 
quarter of an hour the exquisite sounds lasted, bringing deep 
consolation to their hearts. Moreover, they seemed by-and- 
by to hear distinctly sung the Feni y sponsa Christi! and just as 
they believed these words to be uttered by angels voices, 
Catherine murmured the request, " Might she die soon, 
because her poor children were so tired out with watching?" 
Then, as if knowing that she was heard, she suddenly raised 
her right hand and closed her own eyes, just as she had 
been used to do for her sisters, stretched out her feet and 
arms in the form of a cross, and without any outward sign 
or movement gave up her soul to God. 

At the moment of her death, one of those revelations, 
so often granted to holy people when saints are called away, 
came to a nun in a convent at Prato. She was spending the 
night in vigil, when she suddenly saw in vision a magnifi 
cent procession of saints, followed by our Lord Jesus Christ 
Himself, who was bearing a glorified soul to heaven. 
Whilst gazing in delight on this apparition, she heard the 
passing-bell at San Vincenzio toll for Mother Catherine, 
and immediately realized what the splendid vision had 
meant. The same sight was also seen, at the same moment, 
by a man in Prato named Baccio Verzoni, one of the saint s 
spiritual sons, who instantly recognized her in the soul 
led by Christ to glory. He roused his household to tell 
them of the vision, but they tried to persuade him that it 
was a fancy, caused by his having thought so much about 
Catherine s illness; when the passing-bell suddenly proved 
to them also that it was really a revelation of her death and 
of her eternal happiness at the same time. 

Later on in the same day two or three apparitions of the 
saint herself, as if in bodily form, announced the certainty 
of that salvation that she had so confidently hoped for, to 



AND HER COMMUNITY 265 

different people. A little niece of hers, Fiammetta de Ricci,. 
who was being brought up at San Vincenzio, saw her aunt, 
as she thought, kneeling in prayer in the sanctuary, her nun s 
habit all shining with radiant beauty, some time after they 
had told her that she was dead. The child thought she must 
be after all alive, and was trying to get out of her own place 
to run to her, when she saw her suddenly disappear as the 
nuns brought in the dead body on a bier, and laid it where 
her aunt seemed to have been kneeling; and Fiammetta 
understood that she had come from heaven to visit her. 
Catherine also appeared in great glory to some nuns of Santa 
Maria degli Angeli in Florence; whilst St Mary Magdalen 
de Pazzi was granted a marvellous vision of her happiness 
amongst the blessed, during an ecstasy. 

Notwithstanding their absolute assurance of their holy 
mother s happiness, however, the nuns of her convent are 
described as having given way just at first, when the news 
of her actual death spread through the whole community, 
to such violent grief that they even neglected to do the 
required services to her body, and left it for a time un- 
tended just as it lay, crosswise, on the bed where she had 
died. Razzi, and the Compendium^ are both quoted as affirm 
ing that God Himself then took care of the holy mortal 
remains, and invested them with such beauty and splendour 
that when the sisters controlled themselves sufficiently to 
return to the cell to do the last offices for their prioress, 
they could hardly gaze on the face for the dazzling rays 
that from time to time came forth from it. All the super 
natural favours that Catherine had received in the corporal 
marks of our Lord s Passion were moreover now made 
clear that all might see: the stigmata of the five sacred 
wounds and the marks of the thorny crown; whilst the 
mysterious " ring of espousals " was made visibly resplen 
dent to some of the nuns. The heavenly fragrance, too, that 
had so often come from her when living was emitted by the 
virginal corpse. 

Such a sight comforted and cheered the desolate nuns, 
and they prepared the saint s body for its last resting-place 
with loving care, laying it apparently embalmed, and of 



266 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



course clothed in full Religious dress on a bier adorned 
with flowers. From the cell they then reverently carried it 
through the whole convent, as though wishing every part 
of the house to be blessed by its presence, and especially 
the galleries and cloisters which Catherine had so loved 
during life. Lastly, having laid down the bier for a short 
time in their own choir that their mother might, as it 
were, bid farewell in person to that place of her chief 
delight on earth they bore it into the public church, 
where it was placed on a raised platform that all might see 
it. For it need hardly be said that neither Florence nor 
Prato, after the many years of their intense love and 
veneration for the saint, would have consented quietly to 
being deprived of a last sight of her whom they counted a 
glory to her native city. Her body was left in the church 
for two days, so that the crowds who came might freely 
visit it: and numbers, not content with looking, pressed up 
to the bier to touch the holy corpse with some sort of object, 
entreating Catherine s intercession with the fullest confidence 
in her sanctity. 

It is a pleasure to know that the saint s care for her 
young brother Vincenzio was returned at the time of 
her death by his care to do what he could to transmit her 
likeness to posterity. He was still devotedly fond of her; and 
at the first news of her dangerous illness had come and 
established himself in the convent guest-parlour, between 
which and the sick-room the portress sister constantly went 
and came, bringing Vincenzio information as to every 
incident of the illness. After her death, whilst the body 
was still on the bier, he had a plaster mould taken of his 
sister s face; and, from this, the sisters afterwards com 
missioned an artist name unknown to paint a picture 
of their mother as she lay in her coffin surrounded and 
crowned with flowers. 

Vincenzio kept watch in the church for the two days 
of his beloved sister s "lying-in-state" there; and with him, 
also for the whole time, her faithful " son," Ludovico 
Capponi, kept guard. Both men were much and sympa 
thetically noticed, it is said, by the crowds assembled, for 



AND HER COMMUNITY 267 

the noble gravity and recollection of their demeanour, and 
also for the deep grief the tears and sobs which they 
could not control when the body was finally carried away 
out of sight for its burial. 

This was done on the Saturday night, the bier being 
then taken inside the convent, for the nuns themselves to 
perform the last funeral rites. But, to give the people of 
Prato one more opportunity of seeing the remains of their 
adored Mother Catherine, instead of being taken straight 
out of the church it was carried through the assembled 
throng across the piazza of St Dominic, down the great 
avenue that leads to the chief door of San Vincenzio, and 
so back into that home where " Alessandra Lucrezia Ro- 
mola de Ricci " had presented herself as a humble postu 
lant fifty-five years ago. 

The sisters, now in full possession of their mother s 
body, spent that night, and the greater part of Sunday, in 
prayers and vigils. On Sunday evening they chanted solemn 
office; and then each sister separately having reverently 
kissed the saint s hands in final farewell they placed her 
in a leaden coffin, enclosed in a wooden chest. This was 
placed within a deep niche in the vestibule of their own 
interior chapel, underneath the miraculous image of the 
Blessed Virgin, through which the convent had been so 
wonderfully protected at the sacking of Prato. This niche 
was then walled-up, and on it was graven in Latin the 
following simple inscription: 

Born the 23rd of April, A.D. 1522 
Died the 2nd of February, 1590 

To the Memory 

of 
the Reverend Mother 

SISTER CATHERINE 

of Pierfrancesco de Ricci of Florence 

Who, favoured by the grace of the Almighty, 

Magnificently increased and endowed this Monastery. 

From her devoted Daughters in Christ 

as having deserved well of them 

She lived 67 years, 9 months and 9 days. 



268 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



So lived, and so died, the " Saint of Prato." It only 
remains now to give, as shortly as may be, some account of 
such posthumous incidents natural and supernatural as 
were of importance with regard to her after-fame. 

The community of San Vincenzio, after burying her 
who had been for over forty years the head and centre of 
their daily lives, fell for a time very naturally into a kind 
of melancholy calm: a state of passive mourning, from which 
they found it difficult to rouse themselves to real interest 
in anything. The very earliest supernatural events recorded 
as having happened in the convent after Catherine s death 
are certain appearances of their beloved prioress to the nuns, 
which caused the first break in their gloom. Old Taddea 
the lay-sister who had burnt the manuscript for her was 
the first person consoled by a vision; and next to her the 
sister who perhaps felt more completely " lost " without the 
saint than any other member of the community Sister 
Bernarda Giachianotti, of whom so much has been heard 
as Catherine s devoted " secretary." Her departed mother 
seemed to take pity on her forlorn condition and determine 
to put an end to her loneliness. After suffering for a short 
time from an oppressive sense of void in her existence, 
Sister Bernarda suddenly began to feel as if Catherine was 
close by her side, just as she used to be when dictating her 
letters; and thenceforward she heard the voice she so loved 
whisper in her ear every day: " My child, make haste to 
put your affairs in order, for you have no time to lose. * 
Moreover, every morning at Mass, when the time came for 
Communion, she distinctly felt her mother s hand gently 
pushing her towards the holy table, as she used to do in 
lifetime to any of the sisters whom she expected to receive 
some extraordinary grace. Bernarda confided these things to 
one or two of the sisters who were her special intimates, 
and all were unanimous in assuring her that it could mean 
nothing else but that the saint was calling her and bidding 
her prepare to die well, of which she was easily persuaded. 
She accordingly did her very utmost to prepare; and two or 
three months afterwards, still hearing her mother s voice in 
her ear, she died as if answering to her call by a last Adsum ! 



AND HER COMMUNITY 269 

After these first appearances, Razzi says that for nearly 
two years after her death Catherine continued to live in spirit 
amongst her children, so that she almost seemed to be still 
their true prioress. First to one and then to another would 
she either actually appear or make her voice heard, and for 
every sort of purpose now to decide a point of conscience; 
now to set a scruple at rest; now simply to cheer and con 
sole in sadness, or to encourage those who had to take office 

o 

to face the responsibility bravely: and then, again, to help 
her children in temporal difficulties by working miracles in 
their favour. 

Simultaneously with these supernatural occurrences 
within the convent, and for long afterwards, many miracles 
were wrought outside; and these, not only in Prato itself, 
or in Florence, but all through Tuscany and in other parts 
of Italy. From the time of her death onwards so great and 
so wide-spread was the belief in her sanctity Catherine was 
universally invoked, in illness or trouble, by people of every 
class; and numbers of those who asked her prayers obtained 
their requests either at home, or on visiting her tomb.* 
Many brought pictures, statues, or symbolic objects, as ex 
<votos after receiving favours, to the convent; and on this 
point Pere Bayonne blames the nuns for not having taken 
sufficient trouble to preserve such offerings in honour of 
their saint, by keeping them apart from other decorations 
of the church or convent as special records of the miracles 
worked through her intercession. 

Still, though their modesty might make them a little 
backward to accept public homage for their deceased mother, 
the nuns did all they could themselves to get her memory 
perpetuated. They had several portraits of her both painted 
and engraved; and at different periods in succession her tomb, 
and the walls around it, were decorated with pictures of sacred 
subjects by artists of various schools. The first definite 
impulse towards moving for Catherine s beatification came, 

* These references to visits to Catherine s "tomb" are somewhat puzzling, as the tomb 
at this time was merely the walled-in place inside the enclosure. We can only suppose 
that the "vestibule" described above, as containing the niche under the miraculous image, 
was at the end of the nuns choir, next to the public church; and that therefore it was 
visible, probably through a grille, to the faithful in general. 



270 ST CATHERINE DE RICC1 

only twelve years after her decease, to Mgr Caccia,then lately 
made Bishop of Pistoja and Prato. He made his first pasto 
ral visitation to San Vincenzio in 1602, on which occasion 
there was a fresh apparition of the saint, when she appeared 
amongst some of the oldest nuns who were accompanying 
the bishop round the convent, looking just as she used to 
look when on earth. Both he and the sisters took this as a 
special intimation that an official enquiry into her sanctity 
should be obtained; and Caccia having himself enquired 
whilst at Prato into every incident of a supernatural kind 
connected with visits to her tomb, cures obtained by invok 
ing her, etc. got the matter discussed in Rome, and suc 
ceeded, just twenty- four years after Catherine s death, in 
introducing the cause of her beatification, in the year 1614. 

The cause was approved and placed in the hands of the 
judges in 1624, by Urban VIII. All was found satisfactory, 
and the commission had actually pronounced that beatifi 
cation might safely be proceeded with, when fresh decrees 
made by Urban himself suddenly transformed the whole 
mode of procedure for the canonization of saints, and every 
thing had to be begun afresh on entirely new methods. 
There were many other causes which the Congregation of 
Rites had now to take in earlier order than Catherine s; 
and the consequence was that her beatification was postponed 
for nearly a century. The last examination, under the new 
rules, took place in 1716; and on this occasion an impor 
tant incident happened, of special interest to the Domini 
can Order. 

There was question of the devotion and cultus that 
Catherine had professed for Girolamo Savonarola. The 
Promoter Fidel* Prosper Lambertini (afterwards the cele 
brated Benedict XIV) opposed her on this point, affirming 
that in this matter she had sinned. He said that, however 
eloquently Pico de la Mirandola, Marsilio Ficini,and others 
might have defended the great friar, there were two incon 
testable facts most damaging to his memory. First, he and 
his companions had been officially handed over to the secu 
lar arm to be executed, and to have their bodies afterwards 

* Popularly known as "The Devil s Advocate." 



AND HER COMMUNITY 271 

publicly burnt at the stake. Secondly, there were undeniable 
proofs, confirmed by Savonarola s own confession, that he 
had been guilty of disobedience to the pope, and that in 
his preaching he had tried to rouse his hearers to rebel 
against the vices of the Roman Court, declaring himself to 
be a prophet sent from God. 

Catherine s defenders replied to these alleged facts by 
others no less incontestable, but favourable to the friar s 
memory. They showed that Girolamo Savonarola had legiti 
mately enjoyed a great reputation for holiness during hislife> 
and that this reputation had survived him; that at his death 
he was in communion with the Church of Rome; that he had 
approached the sacrament of penance to purify his soul by 
humble confession; that he had received the Holy Eucharist 
with devotion; and had been grateful for the Plenary Indul 
gence which the Sovereign Pontiff had given him. From 
all these facts they drew the conclusion that Catherine could 
have addressed private prayers to him without sin; for, they 
maintained with Suarez, the only thing necessary to justify 
the faithful in privately offering homage and prayers to the 
soul of one whom they regard as their advocate with God, 
is that they should have a "highly probable opinion " that 
such a soul is in possession of eternal salvation. 

By a large majority, almost unanimously, the Congre 
gation of Rites, recognizing the force of this answer, gave 
their decision on the point in favour of Catherine s defen 
ders. But as the latter, somewhat over jealous for Savona 
rola s honour, tried to make this decision the excuse for 
a proclamation of the injustice of his death, and as a fiery 
controversy seemed likely to arise over this further question 
which would in nowise profit Catherine s cause, it was thought 
better to refer the matter to the pope, then Benedict XIII. 
He, wishing very wisely to avoid reviving the long-silenced 
question of the justice or injustice of Savonarola s sentence, 
published a decree by which he commanded that, in future, 
silence should be observed as to the cut/us of Fra Girolamo 
by the servant of God. Thus, nothing could henceforth be 
concluded from this, for or against her cause; and, putting 
the point on one side, they proceeded to other questions.* 

* Opera BeneJ. XIV, De Servorum Dei Beat: etc., lib. Ill, cap. xxv, No. 17-20. 



272 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



The first decree, in favour of the venerable Catherine s 
heroic virtues, was published by Benedict XIII on March 7, 
1727; the second, in favour of the authenticity of her mira 
cles, on April 30, 1732, under Clement XII; and finally, 
her solemn beatification was celebrated in St Peter s, by -the 
same pontiff, on November 23 in the same year, being made 
the occasion of tremendous rejoicings in Florence on the 
part of the populace, as well as of the Ricci family and the 
Dominican Order. 

Nearly a year later, on September 26, 1 733, the tomb of 
the TSeata was opened, in the presence of Mgr Federigo 
Alamanni, then Bishop of Pistoja and Prato, of two great- 
nephews of Catherine s, the Prior of St Dominic s, and several 
other important ecclesiastical and lay functionaries. The 
sacred remains were reverently exposed, after a hundred and 
forty- two years of interment, to the gaze of a generation that 
knew her only by fame; and they beheld with awe that cer 
tain parts of her body had the flesh remaining on it whilst 
all the rest was a skeleton : those parts, namely, that had been 
mysteriously honoured in life by the marks of Christ s Pas 
sion. On the left side, the flesh extended from the shoulder 
(which bore a purple mark where the cross had rested) down 
to the breast, which showed clearly the wound made by the 
lance. Moreover, whilst her clothing, and everything else 
that had been buried with her, had fallen to dust, the little 
wooden cross usually placed in the hands of a nun on burial 
remained intact, and so firmly fixed between her fingers 
that they could not take it away. 

After gazing with wonder at these glorious signs of her 
sanctity, and offering thanks to God, the bishop and priests 
lifted Catherine s body most respectfully from its coffin, and 
placed it in a large gilt reliquary, with glass sides, having 
first had it clothed again in the Religious habit, so arranged 
as to show the mysteriously-preserved marks on her side 
and shoulder, and the small wooden cross clasped in her 
hand. This casket was carried into the public church and 
placed, for the veneration of the people, high up over the 
altar, whilst a series of solemn ecclesiastical festivities was 
held. An enormous throng assembled to take part in this 



AND HER COMMUNITY 273 

celebration; and the joy of the populace at actually behold 
ing the body of the saintly virgin of whose wonderful life 
they had heard so much, whose memory was so dearly 
cherished in Prato, was overwhelming; and doubly so when 
the miraculous preservation of the sacredly-marked flesh 
was perceived. 

The public celebration lasted three days, during which 
Sandrini says that very many hearts were moved to true 
repentance for sin, and went on the spot to make humble 
and contrite confessions, so that all the local priests scarcely 
sufficed to hear the numbers that flocked to their feet 
throughout this memorable trlduo. 

The festivities over, Catherine s body was brought down 
from its high position and placed permanently underneath 
the high altar, cased in a beautiful silver shrine, presented 
by the Ricci family. Here it still remains, behind a gilt iron 
grille through which it is clearly visible. 

Some fresh miracles signalized the beatification, and the 
further process for canonization was immediately started. 
Ten years, however, passed before the examination of these 
last miracles was finished, by which time Benedict XIV was 
on the papal throne. He gave his formal approbation to the 
favourable decision of the judges in 1744, choosing for this 
purpose the feast of St Philip Neri, in memory of the friend 
ship between him and Catherine. On this day, the great 
pontiff first said Mass on St Philip s altar, and prayed for 
a long time before his relics; after which he solemnly 
declared the authenticity of the miracles brought forward 
for her canonization. 

Two years later, on the feast of SS. Peter and Paul, 
1746, he enrolled the name of the Blessed Catherine de 
Ricci amongst the canonized, and proclaimed her "saint" 
before the Universal Church. 

This event was celebrated, like the Beatification, by a 
grand religious festa in Prato, at which Benedict XIV gave 
leave to the nuns of San Vincenzio to come forth from their 
cloister and walk in procession round the Piazza of St 
Dominic with their mother s shrine, which was carried aloft 
over the same road that her coffin had taken. The sisters, 

18 



274 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



on this occasion, are described as having given such immense 
edification to the crowds formed of every rank in life, 
both lay and clerical through which they walked, by the 
modesty, humility and devotion of their behaviour, as to 
have touched some onlookers to tears. Nothing could have 
been a truer homage to the saint than the tender admira 
tion thus roused by her children, of whom Sandrini says 
that " there was not one who on that day did not present 
a true image of her whose body they were accompanying 
in the triumph of her sanctity "; and loud acclamations of 
joy and gratitude from the populace fitly crowned the 
honours offered to her on that great day. 

St Catherine de Ricci s home has happily not lost its 
love and veneration for her. The quiet town of Prato keeps 
up her memory, indeed, by having almost forgotten the 
name of San Vincenzio for her former abode, and calling it 
the convent of "Santa Catarina." The community, happily, 
still exists, having succeeded by the help of friends (notably 
by relations of M. Cesare Guasti, the editor of her " Letters ") 
in buying back their house from the Italian government, 
so as to be safely established there. This community, it will 
interest readers to hear, is lineally descended from the original 
one, though wofully diminished in size numbering about 
thirty nuns, where there used to be between one and two 
hundred. But their loyal devotion to their saintly "mother" 
is undiminished; and they carefully cherish a pear-tree in 
the grounds planted by the saint s hands, which still bears 
fruit. Many changes, it would appear from descriptions, 
have taken place in decorations and arrangements of church 
and house, and some of the monastic buildings are possibly 
gone, and others restored; but the main part of the convent 
far too large, of course, for its present inhabitants 
remains, and its substantial form and materials are those of 
the original construction raised by Filippo Salviati. 



APPENDIX 

List of Original Sources for the Life of 
St Catherine de Ricci 

I. Vita della Venerabile Madre Suor Caterina de Ricci, vergine, 

nobil fiorentina, monaca nel monastero di San-Vincenzio 
di Prato, scritta del "Padre Serafino Razzi de Predicatori. 
(In Lucca, Busdraghi, 1594, in 4to.) 

For this Vita, Razzi besides his own personal recollections of the 
Saint, and the verbal accounts of her contemporaries in the convent 
made use of Sister Maddalena Strozzi s MS. notes, and of four contempo 
rary memoirs compiled by St Catherine s confessors, and other ecclesiastics 
who had known her. 

II. Uita della VenerabUe Madre Suor Caterina de* Ricci, etc. 

scritta del Padre Fra Filippo Guidi, Florentine. 
(Firenze, Sermatelli, 1617.) 

Guidi was a learned Dominican who was confessor at San Vincenzio 
during a part of the Saint s own life. He made use of several contempo 
rary MS. "Lives," Latin and Italian (of which full accounts may be found 
in Pere Bayonne s work) ; and also of a Vita Anonyma di Santa Caterina de* 
Ricci from which readers of the present Life will have found several quo 
tations. 

The two Lives by Razzi and Guidi, with the various documents used 
by them as authorities, form the primitive monuments of St Catherine, 
commonly called her "Leggenda maravigliosa." 

After them, come some seventeenth century memoirs, printed and in 
MS., Italian and French, chiefly short, and mostly mere compilations. 
Next, with the "Processes" for the Beatification and Canonization, come: 

III. (i) Compendia della Vita della beata Caterina de Ricci , 

monaca ee., estratto da processi fatti per la sua beatifica- 
zione, autore Virginia Vassecbi, Cassinese, Bresciano. 
(In Firenze, Paperini, 1733, in 4to.) 
(2) Vita di Santa Caterina de Ricci, cavata dai sommari 
dei processi fatti per la sua beatificazione e canonizazione, 
proposti ed essaminasti nella sagra congregazione de Riti. 
(In Roma, per Girolamo Mainardi. 1 746, in 4to.) 



276 



ST CATHERINE DE RICC1 



Then we have the most often quoted Life of the Saint, next to the 
two " primitive " ones. 

IV. Vita di Santa Caterina de Ricci .... delle Or dine 

di San-Domenico, descritta del Tadre Fra Domenico 
Maria Sandrini, del istesso Ordine. (In Firenze, 
Francesco Moucke, 1747, in 4to.) 

Lastly, that very important source of information as to the Saint s 
inner life and influence on souls : 

V. Le Lettere spirituali efamiliari di Santa Caterina de" Ricci, 

Fiorentina^ raccolte e illustrate da Cesar e Guasti. (In 
Prato, per Ranieri Guasti, 1861.) 






INDEX 



Affectation, Catherine s dislike for, 

168 

Agnes, Ven., of Langeac, 81 
Albizzi, the, rivals of the de Ricci, 

* 2 

Alexandria, St Catherine of, 144 

Angel, Catherine s Guardian, 4 
"Anonyma," Vita of the Saint (see 

Appendix) 

Aquinas, St Thomas, 54, 72 
Aquinas, St Thomas, His doctrine 

on high office in Religious 

state, i 5 i (note) 
Assisi, St Francis of, 83 
Attentions, to friends, shown by 

Catherine, 252 

Bardo, Margherita di, 184 
Bavaria, King of, sends son to visit 

Prato, 129, 207 
Bayonne, Pere Hyacinthe, This life 

of the Saint founded on his 

(see Treface) 

Beatification, Catherine s, 271 
Benedictine nuns, the, Catherine at 

school with (see " Monticelli" ) 
Benigna, Sister Maria, Catherine s 

step-sister, 104, 105, 195 
Bernarda Giachianotti, Sister, 182, 

267 

Besson, Pere Hyacinthe, 85 

Body, Catherine s, found in coffin 
with parts of flesh incorrupt, 
271 

Borromeo, St Charles, miraculously 
saved through Catherine s 
prayers, 208 

Borromeo, St Charles, keeps pic 
ture sent by her, 210 

Bossuet, opinion on satisfaction for 
sin, 161 (note) 



Brothers, Catherine s love for her, 

92, 105 
Buonaccorso Buonaccorsi, 226; 

Catherine s letters to, 227- 

234 

Canigiani, Giovan-Maria, conver 
sion of, 133 

Canonization, the Saint s, 272 

" Canticle of the Passion," revealed 
to Catherine, and adopted by 
the Order, 76 

Capponi, Ludovico, and wife, 238, 
239; his great reverence for 
Catherine, 245, 267; her 
letters to, 240-245 

Cardinals Aldobrandi, Cafarelli, 
Gaddi, and Giustiniani, visit 
Catherine, 128 

Casas, Padre Alberto de las, General 
of Dominican Order (see under 
"Passion") 

Castiglione, Padre F. R., Dominican 
Provincial (ibid.) 

Catherine, Alessandra de Ricci s 
name changed to, 29 

Catherine, St, de Ricci, Birth, 3 ; 
early years, 3-6 ; contemplative 
character, 7; stay at Monti- 
celli, 8 ; life at home, 1 5 ; 
search for convent of strict 
observance, 17; finds Domi 
nicans of Prato, 19; visits San 
Vincenzio, 23 ; first illness and 
miraculous cure, 25; entry at 
San Vincenzio, 27; clothing, 
2 8 ; trials before profession, 3 o ; 
profession, 37; trials after pro 
fession, second illness and pa 
tience under it, 44; second 
miraculous cure, 48 ; her won- 



2 7 8 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCJ 



derful spiritual states dis 
covered, 49 ; commanded to 
reveal them to superiors, 5 I ; 
further miraculous cures, 5 3 ; 
diabolical attacks and divine 
visions, 54, 57; her change of 
heart, 60 ; beginning of great 
ecstasy of Passion, 62; mystic 
espousals, 79 ; receives stigmata 
and other marks of Passion, 
81; miracle of crucifix, 84; 
other miracles, 112; visited 
from all parts, 115, 126; her 
hatred of public notice, 121, 
130; sub-prioress first time, 
I 3 I ; prioress first time, 150; 
her wise government, 160; 
insists on more prayer, 163; 
great ecstasy ceases at her own 
prayer, 158; firmness in main 
taining rights (see " Consent 
Enclosure "j; intercourse with 
St Philip Neri and St M. M. 
de Pazzi, 248 ; her declining 
years, 258; last illness, death 
and funeral, 260-267; pos 
thumous appearances and mi 
racles, 268, 269; beatification, 
272; removal and veneration 
of body, 272, 273; canoniza 
tion, 273 
Cecilia, St, appears to Catherine, 

25 

Church, needed at San Vincenzio, 
43, 177; finished by Salviati, 

193 

Clothing of Catherine, 28, 29 

Communions, Catherine s during 
her great ecstasy, 67; her last 
communion, 261 

Community life, Catherine s views 
of, 164 

" Compassion " of B.M.V., repro 
duced in Catherine, 61; con 
gratulated on by our Lady, 76 

Conferences, Catherine s to her 
nuns, I 56 



Convent of strict observance, Ca 
therine s search for, 17 

Convent Enclosure, affair of, 211 

Conversion of Sinners, Catherine s 
power of, 133 

Cross, mark of our Lord s impressed 
on Catherine, 84 

Crowds, drawn to Prato by Cathe 
rine s renown, 119, 126, 157 

Crucifix, " Sandrina s " at Monti- 
celli, I o; wonderful miracle of 
at Prato, 85, 86 

Crucifixion, wonderful vision of, 
58, 59 

Death, how welcomed in Cathe 
rine s community, 175 
Death, the Saint s own, 263 

Divine Office, Catherine s high 
views of, 162 

Domenico, Fra, companion of Sa 
vonarola, 53; the wandering 
hermit, one of Catherine s 
" spiritual sons," 224 

Dominican Superiors, Catherine s 
relation to (see " Consent En 
closure " ) 

Dupont, Pere, S.J., quoted, 160 

Dying, the, Catherine s super 
natural help of, I 70 

Ecstasy, Catherine s great (see 
" Passion ") 

Elections, Catherine s various to 
office, 144 (note) 

Eleonora of Toledo, visits Prato, 
-117; three of her court fol 
lowers converted, 1 1 8 

Espousals, Mystic, of Catherine, 
79, 80 

Eucharist, the Holy, Catherine s 
great devotion to and high 
views of, 122, 1 68 

Face, of our Lord, Catherine s 
transformed into image of, 75 



INDEX 



279 



Face, wonderful attraction of Ca 
therine s own, 132 

Falconieri, St Juliana, 3 

Family, Catherine s correspondence 
with her own, begun, 88; 
continued with her brothers, 
_ 197-207 

Fasting, Catherine s severe, 6, 119 

Favour of Community, Catherine s 
restoration to, 49 

Federigo de Ricci, Catherine s 
uncle, 2, 27, 89, 97, 196, 
198, 200 

Festivities, public at Prato, on Ca 
therine s beatification and 
canonization, 272, 273 



Home, Catherine s love for and life 

in, 15, 16 
Humility, Catherine s remarkable, 

5, 6, 28,31,34,36,50, 121, 

140, 150, 254, 256 

Illness, Catherine s last, 260 

Illuminated books, passion for in 
convents, 12, 1 8 

Influence, Catherine s, in produ 
cing faith and love for the 
Church in others, 129 

Instructions, Catherine s last to her 
nuns, 262, 263 

Jacopa, Sister M. Cini, 182 



Fiammetta da Diacceto, Catherine s Joanna of Austria, 128, 252 

step-mother, 4, 8, 14, 16, 82, 

101, 106 
Fiammetta da Diacceto, Catherine s 

letters to, 102-108 
Funeral, Catherine s, 267 



"Junior" nuns of San Vincenzio, 
Catherine s great care for, 143; 
her letter to, 144 



(jberardl, edition of Catherine s 

letters (see Preface) 
Giovanbatista de Ricci, Catherine s 

half-brother, 5, 105 
Giovanni de Ricci, Catherine s 

brother, 90 



Lauda, composed by Catherine to 
Savonarola and companions, 

53 
"Lessandra" de Ricci, Catherine s 

half-sister, 101, 104 
Letters, St Catherine de Ricci s, 

editions of and particulars of 

translations, etc. (see Preface) 



Gondi, Antonio, 192, 203, 226, Letters, written to various people 



238, 245; death, 247 



(see under each name) 



Government, Catherine s wise, of Ludovica de Ricci, Catherine s aunt, 



her community, 160 



abbess of Monticelli, 8, 9, 14 



Grief of Catherine s community at Loreto, shrine of at Prato, 173 

her death lessened by visions Love, Catherine s intense for souls, 

136 



of her, 268 

Guasti, Cesare, edition of Cathe 
rine s letters (see Preface) 



Marcellus II, pope, 128 



diy Catherine s biographer, (see Marietta de Ricci, 2 



Appendix) 



Mary Magdalen, St, appears to 



Guizelmi, Agostino, friend of St Catherine, 59 

Ch. Borromeo and of Cathe- Mascalzoni, Sister Gabriella, 75, 76 

rine, 209 Maxims, Catherine s, preserved by 

nuns, 156 

Heart, Catherine s change of, 60 Medici, Alessandro de (Leo XI), 
Heaven, meditation on the joys of, respect for Catherine, 128 

224 Medici, Cosmo de , 136 



280 



ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



Medici, Francesco de , 136, 252 

Michelozzi, Padre N., 74, 75 

Miraculous cure from illness, Ca 
therine s first, 25, 26 

Miraculous cure from illness, Ca 
therine s second, 48, 49 

Miracles, worked by Catherine in 
lifetime, 112, 140, 172,209; 
after death, 269, 273 

Monastic spirit, its relaxation in 
Catherine s day, 10, 17; her 
high ideal of, 1 1, 12 

Monticelli, San Pietro de , Abbey, 
Catherine s connection with, 8 

Mystical states, nature of discussed 
and explained (see Introductory 
Treatise by F. B. Wilberforce, 
O.P.J 

Name-System, mixed, adopted in 
this book ( see Preface) 

Neri, St Philip, and Catherine, 249 ; 
his niece s lawsuit with the 
Dominican nuns, 250; Ca 
therine s letter to him, Ibid.; 
his remarks on Catherine s 
portrait, 2 5 I 

Novitiate, Catherine s great trials 
during, 30 

Nun, a (anonymous), Catherine s 
letter to, 148 

Passion, the, of our Lord, Cathe 
rine s attraction to as a child, 
3, 4; devotion to at Monti 
celli, 8, 9; Catherine s great 
ecstasy of, described, 62; exa 
mined and authenticated by 
Dominican authorities, 68; 
sceptics as to, convinced, 74, 
75; finally certified by Papal 
Legates, 123; ceases, at Ca 
therine s own prayer, I 5 8 

Paul III, sends commissioners to 
Prato to examine Catherine 
and her community, 123 

Pazzi, St M. Magdalen de , Si; 



Catherine s supernatural inter 
course with, 248 

Peculiarity in devotion, etc., dis 
couraged by Catherine, 165 

Penance, Catherine s spirit and prac 
tice of, 6, 28, 1 19, 120, 253, 
259; strictness about in Reli 
gious life, 161 ; moderation in 
advised by her, 186, 231 

Personages, names of important, 
who visited Prato, 129 

Philip, St (see " Neri ") 

Pierfrancesco de Ricci, Catherine s 
father, 2, 15, 21, 24, 26, 88, 
90, 96, 100; his death, 101; 
Catherine s letters to, 89-101 

Pisa, Pierfrancesco Consul of, 97 

Plays, acted in convents, 17 

Poor, Catherine s love for the, 1 74 

Portraits of Catherine, various (see 
Preface) 

Portraits taken after death by bro 
ther s order, 265 ; by her nuns 
orders, 268 

Poverty, Catherine s spirit of, 164, 

253 

Prato, the de Ricci villa at, 19; 
Dominican sisters visit to, //>/V.; 
convent at (see " San Vlncen- 
zio ") 

Prayer, mental, Catherine s arrange 
ment for increase of in com 
munity, 163 

Prioress, Catherine made for first 
time, 150; example set by her 
as, 1 60 

Profession, Catherine s, 37 

Prophecy, nature of gift (see Intro 
ductory Treatise] ; exercised by 
Catherine, 135 

Psalms, recited by Catherine in 
great ecstasy, 109 

Rafaella da Fae*nza, Mother, 42, 
89, 130; her death, 131 

Raptures, Catherine s, during no 
vitiate and after profession 



INDEX 



281 



misunderstood, 33, 45; her 
demeanour during, 49, 65, 
171, 208; they increase to 
wards end of life, 258 

Razzi, SerafinOj Catherine s biogra 
pher (see Appendix), becomes 
one of Catherine s " spiritual 
sons," 223 

Reproof and correction, Catherine s 
mode of, 162 

Revelations, made to Catherine 
about particular people, 18, 
29, 134, 1 66; made about 
Catherine to others, 23, 75, 

2 6 4 

Ricasoli, family of, 2 

Ricasoli, the Cavaliere, visits Ca 
therine, 254 

Riccardi Palace, the (now Mannelli), 
Catherine s birthplace, 3 

Ricci, de , the family of, i, 2, 5 

Ridolfo de Ricci, Catherine s bro 
ther, 92, 196; death, 207; 
Catherine s letters to, 197-203 

Ring of mystic espousals, shown to 
Catherine, 25 ; bestowed on 
her, 80; visible after death, 

265 

Rucellai, Fra Damiani, Catherine s 
letter to, 147 

Salviati, Maria, visits Prato, 1 1 5 
Salviati, Filippo: his wife s miracu 
lous cure, 115; his connection 
with San Vincenzio, 177; 
miracles worked for his con 
version, 179, 1 80, 194; his 
daughters, 1 8 2, 1 8 3 ; his death, 
194; Catherine s letters to, 

I ^3~ I 93; his sons an d the 

community, 212-222 
Sandrim, Catherine s biographer (see 

Appendix) 
San Vincenzio, convent of at Prato, 

Catherine s first visit to, 23; 

her return there for good, 27; 

foundation and foundresses of, 



3 8 ; present condition of build 
ing and community, 274 

Savonarola, Fra Girolamo, 12, 13; 
connection with founding of 
San Vincenzio, 38 ; cultus of in 
community, 48; appearances 
to Catherine, 49, 52, 58; 
Catherine s " spiritual sons " 
help to revive public devotion 
to, 247; incident connected 
with at Catherine s beatifica 
tion, 270 

Scipio de Ricci, Bishop, 5 

Sensible aids to devotion, provided 
by Catherine for her nuns, 
172 

Sick, the, Catherine s great care for, 
169 

Siena, St Catherine of, 83 

Silvestro, Fra, companion of Savo 
narola, 39, 40, 53 

Sisters, Catherine s younger, nuns 
at Prato, 155 

"Spiritual Sons," Catherine s 223 
(see also under " Buonaccorso," 
" Capponi," " Gondi," " Do- 
menico," " Strozzi " and 
" Razzi ") 

State, monastery compared to a, 159 

Statue, miraculous, of our Lady at 
Prato, 41 

Stigmata, Sacred, bestowed on Ca 
therine, 8 i 

Strozzi, Sister Maddalena, 29, 51, 
76, 82, 120, 136, 140, 256 

Strozzi, Lorenzo, Catherine s "spiri 
tual son," 234; her letters to, 
235-238 

Sub-prioress, Catherine first ap 
pointed, 131 

Sufferings, undertaken by Catherine 
for sinners, 136; for souls in 
purgatory, 138 

Sufferings, her own severe, through 
life, 259 

Superiors, Catherine s letters to (see 
" Consent Enclosure "J 



290005 

282 ST CATHERINE DE RICCI 



Taddei, Lorenzo, character beauti 
fully described by Catherine, 
227 (note) 

Tauler, John, quoted, 44 

Teresa, St, 81 (note) 

Thekla, St, appears to Catherine, 25 

Third Order, Dominican, position 
in of Catherine and her com 
munity (see Preface) 

Thorns, our Lord s crown of, 
marked on Catherine s head, 

83 

Thoughts, Catherine reads her 
nuns , 167 

Timoteo de Ricci, Padre, Cathe 
rine s uncle, 5, 2I > 2O > 35> 
50, 51, 93, 98, 147, 152; 
his death, 154 

Totti, Fra Gabriello, 95 

Tongues, nature of gift (see Intro 
ductory Treatise] 



Trent, Council of, its pronounce 
ments compared with Cathe 
rine s visions, 126 (note) 

Union, spirit of amongst Cathe 
rine s nuns, 175 

Unselfishness, shown by Catherine 
to her nuns, 168 

Utterances, Catherines during 
great ecstasy, 1 10, 1 1 1 



Vincenzio de Ricci, Catherine s 
half-brother, 102 (note), 196, 
203, 210, 265; her letter 
to, 203-207 

Visions and revelations, Catherine s, 
87, 125, 137,^138 

Visions and revelations, nature of 
compared (see Introductory 
Treatise) 




BX 4700 .C27 C3613 1905 

SMC 

Capes, Florence Mary, 

1845-1932. 
St. Catherine de Ricci 

: her life, her 
AJG-9629 (mcab)